Fear Rules the Day

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, February 13, 2008; 12:14 PM

Democrats on the stump like to talk about hope and change, but on the Senate floor yesterday they once again succumbed to fear.

Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times: "After more than a year of wrangling, the Senate handed the White House a major victory on Tuesday by voting to broaden the government's spy powers and to give legal protection to phone companies that cooperated in President Bush's program of eavesdropping without warrants. . . .

"The outcome in the Senate amounted, in effect, to a broader proxy vote in support of Mr. Bush's wiretapping program. . . .

"Republicans hailed the reworking of the surveillance law as essential to protecting national security, but some Democrats and many liberal advocacy groups saw the outcome as another example of the Democrats' fears of being branded weak on terrorism.

"'Some people around here get cold feet when threatened by the administration,' said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who leads the Judiciary Committee and who had unsuccessfully pushed a much more restrictive set of surveillance measures. . . .

"[W]ith Democrats splintered, [Sen. Chris] Dodd acknowledged that the national security argument had won the day. 'Unfortunately, those who are advocating this notion that you have to give up liberties to be more secure are apparently prevailing,' he said. 'They're convincing people that we're at risk either politically, or at risk as a nation.'"

Here are the two key votes: 18 Democrats joined with a united Republican voting bloc to reject an amendment that would have stripped the immunity provision from the bill; then 19 Democrats joined the Republicans to pass the bill.

James Rowley writes for Bloomberg about how Bush is heading to another "legislative victory by evoking fears of a new terrorist attack. . . .

"'Holding all the Democrats together on this, we've learned a long time ago, is not something that's doable,' Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters."

Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post that the vote was "a key victory" for the White House.

The "Senate Democrats' split on immunity echoes past party divisions over national security issues, including how strongly to confront Bush on the tools the administration uses to target suspected terrorists and their allies."

The bill isn't home-free quite yet.

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