March 14, 2008 | By Tim Jones

House Passes Bill with No Immunity for Phone Companies

Wow. This morning, the House stood up for our rights and passed a FISA reform bill with no retroactive immunity for phone companies! This is a flat-out rejection of the bill passed by the Senate last month, which would have let phone companies off the hook for illegally delivering innocent Americans' emails and phone calls to the government.

This is an incredible victory. House members opposed to immunity were confronted with a veto threat, a massive lobbying effort, a deceptive fear-mongering ad campaign and bizzare last-minute scare tactics. Despite it all, they listened to their constituents and stood strong.

The debate that preceeded the vote was almost as impressive as the vote itself. As members of the Senate consider whether to ratify the House's bill, we hope they'll keep these words in mind:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California:

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Why would the Administration oppose a judicial determination of whether the companies already have immunity? There are at least three explanations:

First, the President knows that it was the Administration’s incompetence in failing to follow the procedures in statute that prevented immunity from being conveyed – that’s one possibility. They simply didn’t do it right.

Second, the Administration’s legal argument that the surveillance requests were lawfully authorized was wrong; or public reports that the surveillance activities undertaken by the companies went far beyond anything about which any Member of Congress was notified, as is required by the law.

None of these alternatives is attractive but they clearly demonstrate why the Administration’s insistence that Congress provide retroactive immunity has never been about national security or about concerns for the companies; it has always been about protecting the Administration."

Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington:

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From time to time, we are called to again define what it means to be an American, and this is never more so than when security concerns threaten our commitment to liberty. At those moments, at this moment, we need to be imbued with the spirit of 1776, a spirit against tyrany, a spirit that recognizes that the rule of law is the ultimate bulwark of liberty.

A nation that threw off the shackles of King George should never yield to an executive who seeks to trample on the rule of law... We should never yield to an executive that, instead of coming to Congress to change a law, simply decides to ignore it. We are nothing without this commitment.

There are more videos and transcripts at The Gavel. As always, Glenn Greenwald has great commentary.

Congress will now recess for two weeks. When they return in April, the bill's next steps will be decided in the Senate.

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