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Dodd Makes Play on FISA Legislation

Here's a first for a Senate presidential candidate: blocking a bill that doesn't exist yet.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) announced in a breathless press release this afternoon that he would block the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) "from being considered by the full Senate and from receiving a vote on the Senate floor." The statement came as the Senate Intelligence Committee met to consider the legislation -- and weeks before it is likely to reach the floor.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of Senators and the Bush administration reached a compromise on the politically charged bill, which governs the federal government's domestic surveillance program, including a highly controversial grant of legal immunity to telecommunications companies. Civil libertarians oppose the compromise as going too far to protect telecoms that were revealed to have participated in a warrantless wiretapping program, and because the legislation wouldn't establish warrants for each individual wiretap.

Dodd said he would place a "hold" on the FISA bill, a device available to any senator to stop legislation from moving forward. "By granting immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the president's terrorist surveillance program, even though such participation may have been illegal, the FISA reform bill sets a dangerous precedent by giving the President sweeping authorization to neglect the right to privacy that Americans are entitled to under the Constitution," Dodd explained in a statement outlining his concerns.

The rhetoric got hotter with every paragraph. "It is unconscionable that such a basic right has been
violated, and that the president is the perpetrator," Dodd said. "I will do everything in my power to stop Congress from shielding this President's agenda of secrecy, deception, and blatant unlawfulness."

Assuming the bill clears the intelligence panel, where debate continued this evening, the next stop is the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it could well run into problems. Assuming all goes smoothly, the legislation could hit the floor in mid-November, although senior Senate aides said late November or early December is a more likely time frame.

Whenever that big day comes, Dodd -- as the keeper of the "hold" -- must return from the campaign trail to officially block debate on the bill. That entails standing around on the Senate floor, forcing procedural votes, avoiding the furious glares of colleagues who don't share the same concerns. The standard duration of such showdowns is about a week -- time that Dodd, who is trailing badly in early primary polls, can scarcely afford.

--Shailagh Murray

By Post Editor  |  October 18, 2007; 6:30 PM ET
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