Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Senate votes tonight on Keystone, NSA reforms

-- Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline falls one vote short of cloture -- 59-41 -- just minutes ago.

After six days of political wrangling and vote-whipping, the Senate failed to pass a bill on Tuesday forcing authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline, dashing hopes of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) to add the vote to her list of accomplishments heading into a tough runoff election.

Fifty-nine senators voted for the bill, one short of the 60 needed to clear a filibuster. Fourteen Democrats joined all the Senate Republicans in voting for the bill, which was cosponsored by Landrieu and John Hoeven (R-N.D.). The House passed companion legislation on Friday from Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Landrieu's opponent in the runoff election.

Landrieu said going into Tuesday's debate that it was "one of the first debates I've been in in eight years where the outcome is uncertain." She added, however, that she went into the debate "knowing in my heart we have 60 votes. I hope we've got the courage that supports that."

But that last vote never materialized.

The Landrieu Rescue Gambit is very likely also a failure.  The new Senate will take up the measure again in 2015, with an eye toward 67 votes... the number needed to override a presidential veto.

Update: Here are the 14 Democrats who voted 'aye'.

Mark Begich (Alaska)
Michael Bennet (Colorado)
Tom Carper (Delaware)
Bob Casey (Pennsylvania)
Joe Donnelly (Indiana)
Kay Hagan (North Carolina)
Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota)
Mary Landrieu (Louisiana)
Joe Manchin (West Virginia)
Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
Mark Pryor (Arkansas)
Jon Tester (Montana)
John Walsh (Montana)
Mark Warner (Virginia)

Begich, Hagan, Pryor, Walsh, and probably Landrieu won't be in the Senate next year, replaced by Republicans whose no votes don't add to the tally.  Republicans in 2015 who will switch Democratic yes votes include Ernst of Iowa, Gardner of Colorado, Rounds of South Dakota, and Capito of West Virginia.  Meaning they still don't have 67, but that won't slow them down any.

"If you look at new Congress, you can count four more (GOP seats) right away, and there may be others," Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, the lead sponsor of the bill, said after the 59-41 vote Tuesday. "You can see we're well over 60."

Hoeven acknowledged that Republicans would need 67 votes to override a veto, but said one possibility is to include Keystone in a larger energy package that may not prompt a veto threat.

Update (11/19): Or Obama could cut a deal with Republicans.

President Barack Obama might be open to using the Keystone pipeline as leverage with Republicans if they cooperate on other aspects of his long-stalled domestic agenda, such as investing in infrastructure, closing tax loopholes or reducing carbon emissions.

After years of fighting over TransCanada's crude oil pipeline from Canada, a Keystone deal is not entirely out of the question, sources inside the administration and others close to the White House told Reuters on Tuesday.

-- The Senate will also decide tonight how much spying on Americans -- and to what extent -- will continue happening.  Vox:

The original version of the USA Freedom Act, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in October 2013, had a number of provisions on the wish lists of civil liberties groups. But by the time the legislation was approved by the House of Representatives in May 2014, it had been watered down so much that leading civil liberties groups opposed it.

So, in July, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced his own version of the USA Freedom Act in the Senate. It is less radical than the original USA Freedom Act, but places more limits on the NSA than the legislation approved by the House.

Debate over the USA Freedom Act has focused on the best way to rein in bulk collection of Americans' phone records. The Senate version of the legislation requires any collection of phone records to focus on a suitably narrow "selector" — a search term that identifies an individual, phone line, or other specific entity.

The Senate bill would also take some other steps to make the NSA's activities more transparent and accountable. Right now, when the government asks the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve surveillance activities, there is no one around to present opposing arguments. The Senate bill would change that by creating several new positions for public advocates who could participate in FISC proceedings.

The bill would also require the government to disclose significant FISC opinions (though the government could decline to publish them if it decides doing so would damage national security) and to publish detailed statistics about the extent of domestic spying activities.

Here's the most interesting part; who stands against the legislation and why.

Advocates at both extremes of the surveillance debate oppose the bill. From the pro-surveillance side, former NSA director Michael Hayden and former attorney general Michael Mukasey recently blasted the bill as "NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love." At the opposite end of the political spectrum, some hard-core civil libertarians are opposing the bill for being too soft on the NSA.

Interestingly, Kentucky's two Republican Senators, Rand Paul and majority leader Mitch McConnell, oppose the bill for opposite reasons. Paul thinks it doesn't go far enough, while McConnell believes it ties the NSA's hands too much. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, agrees with McConnell.

The bill will need 60 votes to overcome an expected filibuster.

More there about how the various amendments to be offered might strengthen or weaken the bill.  I'll update here with the final vote later tonight (or tomorrow morning if they go on all night).


The Senate on Tuesday blocked a bill to end bulk collection of American phone records by the National Security Agency, dealing a blow to President Barack Obama's primary proposal to rein in domestic surveillance.

The 58-42 vote was two short of the 60 needed to proceed with debate. Voting was largely along party lines, with most Democrats supporting the bill and most Republicans voting against it. The Republican-controlled House had previously passed its own NSA bill.

The legislation would have ended the NSA's collection of domestic calling records, instead requiring the agency to obtain a court order each time it wanted to analyze the records in terrorism cases, and query records held by the telephone companies. In many cases the companies store the records for 18 months.

The revelation that the spying agency had been collecting and storing domestic phone records since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was among the most significant by Edward Snowden, a former agency network administrator who turned over secret NSA documents to journalists. The agency collects only so-called metadata — numbers called, not names — and not the content of conversations. But the specter of the intelligence agency holding domestic calling records was deeply disquieting to many Americans.

The bill had drawn support from technology companies and civil liberties activists. Its failure means there has been little in the way of policy changes as a result of Snowden's disclosures.


Gadfly said...

You think that in a new Congress, specifically a new Senate, that the GOP will be able to turn a couple more Dems on Keystone?


And, the NSA bill illustrates some of the fun the Turtle will have herding his Senate cats for the next 2 years.

PDiddie said...

I don't. I think some of these fellows -- Carper, Casey, perhaps a couple of others -- have no good reason to support Keystone once Landrieu is defeated. In other words I think some of them just tried to do her a solid.