I Ain’t A Killer But Don’t Push Me

Unreleased Brian Beutler! Just before the man took three shots, Brian Beutler sat down with Sen. Russ Feingold for the Media Consortium to discuss the upcoming destruction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, scheduled for tomorrow in the Senate. I don’t have a link, but after the jump — and the following Makaveli video — we’re going to do this mixtape style and post the whole thing.

And now… new Beutler!

"This Constantly Pulsating Fear"
Exclusive: Feingold Talks FISA With Beutler

Living up to predictions by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wisc., of "the caving of very large numbers of Democrats… [on] an awful piece of legislation," the Senate remains poised to pass the Protect America Act in a form that will allow telephone companies and internet providers immunity from prosecution for forking over consumer information to government spymasters. The bill confers immunity that would be retroactive to the first days of a warrantless spying program originated by the Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks. In an interview with The Media Consortium’s Brian Beutler, Feingold attributed Democrats’ weakness to "this constantly pulsating fear of being accused of being soft on terrorism."

Today’s debate on the Senate floor focuses on an amendment to the Protect America Act that would cancel telecom immunity from the current version of the legislation, which is being pushed by the administration as an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, known simply as FISA. Perhaps the most passionate advocate of the anti-immunity amendement to speak today was Feingold, whom Beutler interviewed last week about (among other things) why the Senate Democrats are likely to let the administration have its way with the spying legislation — including telecom immunity.

The immunity debate today saw a couple of strange-bedfellow pro and con tag teams arguing the anti-immunity amendment, which is offered by Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Arguing against the amendment were Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., and Kit Bond, R-Mo.

Supporting Dodd was the team of Feingold and Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican. Specter focused on last week’s decision by a federal judge who last week ruled that the Bush administration’s warrantless spying scheme, known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Passing the
administration’s wish-list surveillance bill, Specter said, will amount to circumvention of the legal system. Feingold, under questioning by Specter, pleaded a constitutional case.

Here’s a bit of Brian’s interview of Feingold:

BRIAN BEUTLER: So starting on FISA, a lot of people were
impressed with the House Democrats’ performance in February when they refused to advance the Senate bill. In the interim, what happened? Where was the pressure coming from within the Democratic party to revisit this issue and not wait at least until there was a new administration in place?

SEN. RUSSELL FEINGOLD: This is just really amazing to me, because there’s always the pressure on this. There’s a very interesting thing that happens with these where people get fired up and people really have good instincts about civil liberties and would really prefer to be on this side. I think that’s what they really believe in. So you get kind of a head of steam, which I noticed happened with the blocking of the reauth of the Patriot Act for a while, until people caved. And it happened for a while even in the Senate on the PAA (Protect America Act, which is the name of the new FISA legislation). But what was a surprise was what the House did. I mean that was really impressive that a group of people, including Steny Hoyer and others, stood up and said, "No, we’re not gonna do this."

But the problem is that there’s this fear, that sort of grows over time, that somehow Democrats are gonna get hit over the head by claims that they’re soft on terrorism. And it always rears its head, especially when we’re heading into a recess period or an election period. What’s happening right now is that they claim that the problem is that the. We were able to make the argument early in the year that the orders were lasting for a year. So even if the law expired, the orders allowing the surveillance were still in place. Until August. Well, we’re coming up to August.

Now, the truth is that we could simply extend the bill for a year, sunset it. We could extend the orders. But as you get closer to these deadlines, the administration uses these intimidation tactics, and far too many Democrats fall for it. They think that somehow the administration’s gonna win this argument. I don’t think that’s true. I think the Democrats did great the last few months when the House stood up to them. But there is this sort of inertia — if that’s the right word — that leads to ultimately the caving of very large numbers of Democrats, even voting for an awful piece of legislation like this. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. I don’t know, the day-to-day pressure; it’s like this constantly pulsating fear of being accused of being soft on terrorism."

BB: Following up on that, then. How, politically, does one change that mindset — that being tough on national security means that the Democratic party has to support wars and the erosion of civil liberties?

RF: I think you show people that those who stand firm on this do just fine politically. I like to think of myself as an example of that. There are many people like that. The truth is that if you properly articulate that you want to balance national security and make sure we protect civil liberties at the same time. And take the time to go through the arguments — which are very frankly easy to win — these are not hard arguments. When anybody really listens to it, they just kinda shake their head. Then you can prevail and show people that you don’t need to buckle at the knees on this. But it requires a little patience. It requires a little faith in peoples’ willingness to listen. And that’s how in the long run you prevail. And I’m hoping that a lot of people who run this time, unlike a lot of people who ran in 2006, are held accountable.

I’m sure many of our candidates are gonna say, you know, I was against immunity and I don’t like this bill. Well, they need to be held accountable when they get here. And that hasn’t really happened. We have a lot of Democrats, even some who voted to get us out of iraq, who aren’t voting properly on this, in a way that is, you know frankly, very damaging to our efforts to improve the bill.

BB: I understand. So you don’t think that an Attorney General Feingold or a DNI (Director of National Intelligence) Feingold (in the next administration) would be crucial?

RF: I certainly don’t think it’s crucial, and I think that the place I am right now — where I sit on the intelligence committee, the foreign relations committee and the judiciary committee — gives me a really unique angle on this. I think I may be the only person that has that combination of committees that relates to all of these issues.

BB: That’s why I requested the interview.

RF: I think it gives me a rather unique opportunity to pursue these issues. In the Senate. So I think that might be the best place for it.

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