What: All Issues : Government Checks on Corporate Power : Telecommunications Industry : S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Motion to bring debate to a close on an amendment that would temporarily extend foreign intelligence surveillance law/On the cloture motion (2008 senate Roll Call 4)
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S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Motion to bring debate to a close on an amendment that would temporarily extend foreign intelligence surveillance law/On the cloture motion
senate Roll Call 4     Jan 28, 2008
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This vote was on an attempt to bring debate on an amendment to a close (known as a "cloture motion" in the Senate). The amendment in question, by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would delete the text of the underlying bill and replace it with language that would extend for 30 days a law set to expire on Feb. 1, 2008. The law deals with the authority of the U.S. Attorney General and director of National Intelligence to listen in on phone calls of suspected terrorists without a warrant.

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. Debate on the measure itself was contentious and stretched over several days. The Senate's Democratic leadership filed the cloture motion to try to bring these days of debate to an end, as well as to ensure they could defeat any potential filibuster. Invoking cloture, and cutting off a filibuster, requires the same amount of votes (60, a large margin in the Senate).

The amendment was offered to a bill that 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.

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.

Lawmakers fought at length over the underlying bill's immunity provision. Democrats made several attempts to strip the immunity provision but were largely unsuccessful. Instead, Reid offered this amendment, which would extend the expiring law for 30 days, giving Congress more time to work out the details of a longer term extension.

"We have requested a 30-day extension repeatedly—I have done it repeatedly—and each time the Republicans have said no. Compromise is a two-way street. Bipartisanship is a two-way street. As I said last week, we are willing to pass an extension of current law for 2 weeks, 30 days, 18 months, 14 months, 15 months or whatever our colleagues want, but we need to pass an extension now if we are to ensure the law doesn't expire. I have explained if it expires what happens," Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who favors the underlying bill, said he was opposed to the 30-day extension because President Bush said he would not sign it into law.

Though 48 voted for bringing debate to a close and 45 voted against it, this particular type of motion requires a three-fifths majority of the Senate (60 votes) in order for it to pass, thus closing off any attempts at filibustering. The vote was split entirely along party lines, with every Republican present voting against the cloture motion, and every Democrat present voting for it. Thus, the cloture motion was defeated, and debate on the amendment that would replace the text of the underlying bill with a 30-day extension of current law continued.

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