George Bush is poised for a major victory this week as Congress nears final approval of a plan to provide legal immunity to private companies that aided government wiretapping as well as expand those spying powers.
Debate on the wiretapping bill is slated to begin in the Senate today, with a vote expected by week’s end. Although civil liberties groups and liberal activists have pressed Democrats to oppose the proposal, its approval is considered a near-certainty.
The bill’s most controversial provision gives legal immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the Bush administration monitor phone calls and emails without a court warrant in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The immunity debate has created particular headaches for Barack Obama, who last fall joined a group of liberal senators in blocking a separate wiretapping bill that contained a liability shield for telecoms.
But after securing the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama veered to the centre and indicated he would support the wiretapping plan even if the final version cancelled lawsuits against the companies. His staunchest supporters on the left protested the sudden shift, even forming a network on Obama’s website to castigate him.
Obama attempted to smooth over the rift in a statement posted to that online network yesterday.
“Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I’ve chosen to support the current compromise,” Obama wrote to the backers disenchanted with his move.