What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Government Surveillance of Citizens : S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Motion to bring debate to a close on a measure that would authorize warrantless surveillance of certain intelligence targets and grant immunity from prosecution for some telecommunications companies/On the cloture motion (2008 senate Roll Call 3)
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S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Motion to bring debate to a close on a measure that would authorize warrantless surveillance of certain intelligence targets and grant immunity from prosecution for some telecommunications companies/On the cloture motion
senate Roll Call 3     Jan 28, 2008
Progressive Position:
Nay
Progressive Result:
Win

This vote was on an attempt to bring debate on a measure to a close (known as a "cloture motion" in the Senate). The bill in question makes revisions to electronic surveillance laws, including controversial provisions that would allow U.S. intelligence agencies to listen in on phone conversations of foreign targets even if they were communicating with someone in the United States. The bill also would grant retroactive legal immunity from prosecution to telecommunications companies that shared customers' private telephone records with the government.

Several lawsuits have been brought against telecommunications firms that disclosed private consumer records to the government as part of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program. As a result, the White House has pressed Congress to grant the companies immunity from prosecution. The issue of warrantless wiretaps came to a head in 2005 when a series of news reports revealed that the administration had used an executive order to circumvent the court system and collect information about Americans, without a warrant, by petitioning telecommunications providers for phone records and more. It resulted in a firestorm of controversy over balancing the government's need to collect time-sensitive intelligence information from terrorist targets, and the public's right to privacy and due process.

If the Senate votes to "invoke cloture" – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of unhappy politicians. In this case, the cloture motion was filed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in an attempt to head off further Democratic attempts to strip the bill of its telecom immunity provisions.

McConnell cast the cloture vote as a must-pass because of the time-sensitive nature of intelligence-gathering. "We can get serious and pass the bipartisan Intelligence Committee product or we can waste time on voting for poison pill amendments that weaken the bill and that will prevent it from becoming law," McConnell said. "I urge our colleagues to make the right choice, to vote for cloture so that we can continue to protect the homeland. We cannot delay this important legislation for another month"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., countered that Democrats had sought to extend the authority temporarily – for 30 days – while the Senate continued working on this larger bill, but the Republicans sought to block such a bill.

"Senators offer amendments to these bills and we let the Senate work its will. I don't understand how the Republicans can expect to block us from voting on any amendments and expect us to follow along. Senators are entitled to vote on their amendments," Reid said. "Now, if someone is stalling—and we all went through that—there comes a time when you shut off the debate. But there is none of that here."

The motion to bring debate on the bill to a close and proceed to a final vote was rejected by a vote of 48-45. Though more voted yes than no, these types of votes require a three-fifths majority of the Senate (60 votes) in order to consider them passed. All but one Republican present voted for the motion to end debate (Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania). Of Democrats present, all but four voted against the motion (Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas). Thus, the cloture motion failed and debate on the measure that would rewrite intelligence laws continued.

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