Feingold on FISA: Elect Obama to reverse 'terrible legislation'
Nick Langewis and David Edwards
Published: Wednesday July 9, 2008

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MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked: "What if Congress had responded to Watergate by immunizing the executive branch's lawbreakers and giving Richard Nixon sweeping new powers to snoop?

"Oh, wait! They just did! They just took thirty years or so to get around to it."

H.R. 6304, updating the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was passed by the Senate and awaits a pleased President Bush's signature Wednesday. The bill grants the executive branch virtually unchecked power to monitor Americans' electronic communications originating, or terminating, overseas, and immunizes from civil lawsuits the telecommunications companies that agreed to help the NSA eavesdrop on such communications without obtaining the proper warrants through the FISA court.

The people have a right to be disappointed in the Senate's approval of the new FISA bill, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) told Maddow. However, the best remedy, he said, is a Democratic president, particularly a President Obama.

The legislation is a "catastrophe," Feingold lamented, and it "needs to be fixed at some point."

"This is a sad moment," he said. "It really is a black mark, not only on the Democrats, but on the Congress and really the history of our country.

And the same thing, Rachel, happened with regard to the PATRIOT Act, when we tried to fix it after it had been passed in a flawed way. There was this period of strength where Democrats held firm, and then they collapsed; and the same thing happened again here.

This administration, despite its weakness, somehow is able to raise the specter of being, as they say, 'soft on terrorism,' and unfortunately, Democrats, who can be so strong on domestic issues, somehow collapse.

And that's exactly what happened. This is a terrible piece of legislation. It's one of the greatest assaults on the Constitution, I think, in the history of our country. We are going to have to fix it, but it is a dark hour for the Constitution."

Opining that Congress was arguing "for its own impotence," Maddow wondered what effect the 69-28 vote would have on the public's image of either major party's responsible stewardship of executive power.

Feingold conceded that public disappointment following gains for Democrats in the 2006 elections was understandable, but said that a Democratic president, "in particular, Barack Obama, should allow us to greatly change this mistake."

"Barack Obama believes in the Constitution," he continued. "He's a constitutional scholar. I believe that he will have a better chance to look at these powers that have been given to the executive branch, [even though] he'll be running the executive branch.

I think he will understand and help take the lead in fixing some of the worst provisions."

"I do think that people have a right to be disappointed," he went on, "but they also have a right to hope for change--on this issue, in particular--starting in January."

"It is heartening to hear your optimism on the prospect of Obama's presidency on this issue," Maddow responded, "but of course his vote today let a lot of us who see this as a real abrogation of the Fourth Amendment to be very concerned." Among those ranks is constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, who called the bill an "evisceration" of the Fourth Amendment during a recent interview with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, returning to Countdown on Tuesday to air his astonishment and disappointment.

Senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (D-IL), a Harvard Law graduate and former professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, backed an amendment to the bill stripping the proposed immunity, but ultimately voted for the final bill with the immunity provisions intact.

More of the interview can be viewed below, as broadcast on MSNBC's Countdown on July 9, 2008.

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