Sen. Amy Klobuchar meets with local bloggers
[Update I, II & III: see below]
Joe Bodell, Noah Kunin, Flash and I met with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) for about an hour today. I came up with the idea, but all credit goes to Joe for setting it up. I'd like to thank Amy and her staff for agreeing to meet with us.
Amy began by reciting many of the accomplishments, many of them hers, of the 110th Congress.
- Minimum wage: first increase since the 80s.
- This freshman class pushed through ethics reform
- Finally passed the 9/11 Commission recommendations
- Education reform
- Mental health parity bill: it's taken 6 years to pass this.
- Hate crimes: it's taken 5 years to pass this.
- They passed a renewable energy bill, blocking a Republican filibuster that requires 50% of all vehicles be flex-fuel by 2015. She worked to get this passed.
- They've passed legislation to better take care of vets, better fund the VA.
- They reestablished a Truman Commission to provide accountability to the money being spent in Iraq. $1 out of ever six spent in Iraq has been lost.
- She's voted for the Feingold-Reid Amendment for real timelines in Iraq. Republicans blocked it with a threat of a filibuster.
- She voted for the Webb Amendment twice.
She didn't even mention the cell phone legislation, toy legislation and pool safety legislation which are all commendable efforts. She's also been really busy with all the disasters in MN. The bridge collapse and flooding has taken up a considerable amount of her time.
As a DFL activist who was really angry with her over the combination of her supplemental war funding vote, FISA vote and condemnation of MoveOn.org, I get a better idea that she is doing many good things. I'd given her a C grade which after our meeting, I will raise to a B-.
Joe, Noah and Flash will most likely talk more about Iraq, Iran, statesmanship and such things, but I want to focus on unsupervised wiretapping and the FISA legislation.
I was really angry with Amy for voting for the FISA legislation that was forced through the Senate the evening before everyone left for the August recess. I felt that she had abandoned our rights and her campaign claim to hold the Bush Administration accountable. She clarified her position and provided a little more insight into the process. I am less angry with her now and feel more confident that she will not allow unsupervised wiretapping of Americans in the future. I'll begin by recapping the issue.
On August 3, 2007, the Bush Administration demanded that Congress address what they claimed to be a crisis. There were 15,000 leads that the Bush Administration were unable to investigate because of a technological innovation. Many international calls were being routed through American servers even though no Americans were involved in the calls. Consequently, the Bush Administration was required to get court orders to investigate these calls and getting okay from the FISA courts was hindering their investigations. It has now also come to light that Department of National Intelligence Chief Mike McConnell lied to Congress that he had intel indicating an attack on Washington, DC was going to happen in August while the Congress was in recess. He demanded that Congress pass this bill to protect America.
The Bush Administration demanded that this bill get passed on a Friday night before everyone left town, lied about a potential attack on Washington, DC itself and threatened the Democrats with calling them weak on terror if they didn't pass the legislation.
The Democratic leadership capitulated. They passed a bill that only required the US Attorney General and the DNI Chief review all wiretapping even if it included Americans on the call. The AG and DNI Chief would be in charge of determining if any American's civil rights were violated. The FISA courts would be circumvented and the Bush Administration would be allowed to wiretap Americans without any adult supervision.
The netroots went ballistic.
In our discussion, Amy claimed that she hadn't heard McConnell's lie that Friday evening. She heard about it much later. I was at least hoping that McConnell's lie had influenced her which would make her vote slightly more understandable, slightly more forgivable. As a former law enforcement official, it surprised me that she didn't take this issue more seriously.
However, she admitted that she wouldn't vote for legislation like this again. She claimed that she wasn't part of the negotiations over this bill and
realizes that this is a vote she'd like to have back. [I got an email clarification. She does not regret her vote. Her Aide says "She did say it is not something she will vote for in the long term, and that the version she did vote for could have been better."] Also, this bill didn't go through the Judiciary Committee and was forced through quickly all on that Friday night. She claims that she and the rest of the Committee will carefully examine the upcoming legislation and make sure that American's rights are not ignored again.
The good news is that the House's version would fix all of the heinous mistakes in the August FISA capitulation.
- Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) introduced the RESTORE Act, the Responsible Electronic Surveillance that is Overseen, Reviewed, and Effective Act of 2007. Here are the key provisions:
- Restores court oversight of intelligence by requiring that electronic surveillance programs be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court
- Mandates that FISA warrants be obtained when the administration wants to undertake surveillance of persons in the US
- No retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the administration’s warrantless surveillance
- Does not require individual warrants when targets are reasonably believed to be abroad
- Ensures FISA is the exclusive means of electronic surveillance and that no modifications can be made without express legal authorization
A summary of the RESTORE Act can be found here. The bill also requires the Justice Department to reveal the details of all electronic surveillance conducted without court orders since 9/11.
Check out Glenn Greenwald's fears and hopeful conclusions about this upcoming legislation. I think we Democrats definitely should have hope that our Democratic Congresscritters will fix this, but we should continue to hold their feet to the fire and make sure that the Bush Administration cannot wiretap without adult supervision.
Joe Bodell at MN Campaign Report his take on the meeting posted.
- Klobuchar has come under fire in recent months for her votes on several of these issues, most especially those related to intelligence-gathering activities and the continuing occupation of Iraq. This fire has come not from her Republican opponents, however, but rather from Democratic activists and bloggers who have been frustrated by the lack of positive movement on problems they feel the Democratic congressional majorities were elected to fix.
I asked the Senator about the tension between partisanship and statespersonship, about sticking to one's party line on principle or compromising with the other side to get something done. She gave what one might call a balanced answer: it depends on the issue. She cited the energy standards bill passed earlier this year (which raised fuel efficiency standards for the first time in many years) as an example where compromise got things done -- she would have preferred higher fuel efficiency standards, but the bill represented an important move in the right direction.
(MN Campaign Report)
Noah has the video up from yesterday. Now you can all see what Amy actually said.
Flash at Centrisity has his post up now, too.
- She continued; "I believe it was what we needed to do at the time. We take these votes that won't make everyone happy, but people have to understand my main focus here is to balance the need for getting the information and civil liberties. And I do think there is a much better way to do that."
She did make it clear that the permanent legislation WILL have to go through the Senate Judiciary committee, unlike the temporary extension. She also stated she will not vote for an additional extension, placing the pressure on Congress and the administration to get a permanent piece of legislation in place.