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At last Tuesday’s blogger meetup (which was fantastic by the way – if you weren’t there, you really missed out), the talk turned to Claire McCaskill’s recent disappointing votes on FISA and on troop withdrawals from Iraq. The feeling all around was disappointment in someone that many of us worked really hard for in 2006. We knocked doors, made phone calls, and raised money to elect someone who would not rubberstamp Bush’s excesses like her predecessor did, but that’s what we’re getting. (Yes, I am happy with her vote on the Webb Amendment to extend rest time for the troops.) And what’s worse, we had no inkling as to why McCaskill voted the way she did, especially on FISA. I mean, why would you vote to expand the powers that Bush was already abusing?

I wrote to Senator McCaskill and received no response, but a friend of mine did get an e-mail response from her office. She argues that the DNI (yeah, that guy) wrote a letter to the Senate requesting a speedy revision of the FISA law because of the increased threat of terrorism, so she gave it to him. McCaskill actually argues against herself, saying in the end, this temporary legislation erodes constitutional protections. So why vote for it at all?

The temporary nature of the legislation does nothing to assuage my fears, either. The Patriot Act, Bush’s tax cuts, and the Iraq War all face or have faced sunset provisions, and even in the case of the unpopular Iraq War, Bush, hardly an endearing president, always gets what he wants. Apparently McCaskill is going to work hard to fix the situation; I’ll believe it when I see it.

I still haven’t seen anything amounting to a logical line of reasoning coming from McCaskill on why Bush (or any president, for that matter) should have the power to sidestep the courts when listening in on the private communications of an American citizen.

Full text of the letter below the jump.

Photo courtesy of PubDef

Dear [redacted]:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Protect America Act of 2007 (S. 1927). I appreciate hearing from you, and I welcome the chance to respond.

On August 1, 2007, I was faced with a stark reality: the Director of National Intelligence sent a letter warning the Senate of the heightened threat of international terrorism, and urging us to modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) before the August recess “to ensure that we do not have critical gaps in our ability to provide warnings of threats to the country”. The call to quickly revise FISA in order to reflect developments in telecommunications technology was echoed by four Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I chose to heed these urgent warnings.

I voted for two measures to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I preferred the legislation offered by Senators Rockefeller and Levin; however, it failed to gather the 60 votes needed to pass. I also voted for the Bond-McConnell version, which did receive enough votes to pass. Corresponding legislation was later approved by the House of Representatives, and the President quickly signed the bill into law.

It is important to recognize that this legislation is a temporary fix to provide our intelligence community with the most immediate tools needed to protect our country – it will be in place for only six months, and it cannot be renewed before it is thoroughly reviewed and authorized by Congress. This gives us six months to create a more acceptable permanent intelligence collection process that that allows us to effectively monitor terrorist communications overseas while also protecting the privacy of law-abiding American citizens. I can assure you I will be one of the Senators working hard to re-establish the constitutional protections that have been eroded by this President and this temporary FISA legislation.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

All best,
Senator Claire McCaskill