WASHINGTON – More than two and a half years after the disclosure of President’s Bush’s domestic eavesdropping program set off a furious national debate, the Senate gave final approval on Wednesday afternoon to broadening the government’s spy powers and providing legal immunity for the phone companies that took part in the wiretapping program.
The plan, approved by a vote of 69 to 28, marked one of Mr. Bush’s most hard-won legislative victories in a Democratic-led Congress where he has had little success of late. Both houses, controlled by Democrats, approved what amounted to the biggest restructuring of federal surveillance law in 30 years, giving the government more latitude to eavesdrop on targets abroad and at home who are suspected of links to terrorism.
The issue put Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in a particularly precarious spot. After long opposing the idea of immunity for the phone companies in the wiretapping operation, he voted for the plan on Wednesday. His reversal last month angered many of his most ardent supporters, who organized an unsuccessful drive to get him to reverse his position once again. And it came to symbolize what civil liberties advocates saw as “capitulation” by Democratic leaders to political pressure from the White House in an election year.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who was Mr. Obama’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, voted against the bill.
The outcome was a stinging defeat for opponents who had urged Democratic leaders to stand firm against the White House after a months-long impasse.
“I urge my colleagues to stand up for the rule of law and defeat this bill,” Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said in closing arguments.
Read moreSenate Backs Wiretap Bill to Shield Phone Companies