Dodd, Leahy, Feingold, & Merkley to Repeal Retroactive Immunity

It’s about damned time.

Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced today that they will introduce the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act, which eliminates retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that allegedly participated in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.

“I believe we best defend America when we also defend its founding principles,” said Dodd. “We make our nation safer when we eliminate the false choice between liberty and security. But by granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have participated in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, the Congress violated the protection of our citizen’s privacy and due process right and we must not allow that to stand.”

Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said, “Last year, I opposed legislation that stripped Americans of their right to seek accountability for the Bush administration’s decision to illegally wiretap American citizens without a warrant. Today, I am pleased to join Senator Dodd to introduce the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act. We can strengthen national security while protecting Americans’ privacy and civil liberties. Restoring Americans’ access to the courts is the first step toward bringing some measure of accountability for the Bush-Cheney administration’s decision to conduct warrantless surveillance in violation of our laws.”

“Granting retroactive immunity to companies that went along with the illegal warrantless wiretapping program was unjustified and undermined the rule of law,” Feingold said. “Congress should not have short-circuited the courts’ constitutional role in assessing the legality of the program. This bill is about ensuring that the law is followed and providing accountability for the American people.”

“During the previous administration, telecommunications companies were granted retroactive immunity for violating the rights and privacy of millions of Americans,” said Merkley. “I am proud to join Senator Dodd and co-sponsor the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act to help restore accountability and increase oversight to protect the privacy rights that have been central to our nation since its inception.”

There is more work to be done to roll back the FISA Reauthorization Act of 2008. But this is a key part of that work and is certainly commendable.

Dodd on the State of Health Care Reform

Via CT Blogger of My Left Nutmeg, here’s Senator Chris Dodd talking about the state of health care reform. Of particular note is Dodd’s take on the notion that the Democratic Party has been unable to maintain caucus discipline generally and the importance for their to be caucus discipline on the procedural vote to move to debate whatever legislation comes forward in the Senate. Dodd suggests that all 60 members of the Democratic caucus should vote for cloture to overcome the expected Republican filibuster of health care legislation. Dodd says he’s repeatedly told the caucus that is unique. He tells his colleagues that “you may not get another chance to do something as significant as you will in the next fifteen weeks.”

We shall see if Senate Democrats follow Dodd’s lead and stand as one to give the Senate the chance to debate health care reform.

Repeating Debunked Smears

Senator Chris Dodd has taken a lot of heat over the last year plus about loans he received from Countrywide. After taking a lot of fire from the right over them, the Senate Ethics Committee investigated and cleared Dodd of any wrong doing. Dodd had the circumstances of the loan audited and has released hundreds of pages of documents. All point to the same thing: Dodd received no special treatment from Countrywide and there was absolutely no impropriety in connection to these loans.

Unfortunately Michael Moore doesn’t seem to follow the news and, as a result, has apparently attacked Dodd for the loans in his new documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” He’s even gone so far as to claim having “exclusive” information from an insider, Robert Feinberg, who fingers Dodd.  Sadly, Moore didn’t do his homework and the guy who he touts as providing real dirt on Dodd’s loans has already been debunked by David Fiderer of Huffington Post (here and here).

CTBlogger at My Left Nutmeg has a pretty comprehensive roundup of how, in the end, the charges against Dodd were assessed by the CT press and Senate Ethics Committee.  He points out:

Now, given the fact that movies take a long time to shoot, edit, print, and distribute, it could make sense to assume that Moore didn’t have access to this:

The Senator and his wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, negotiated interest rates and terms widely available in the marketplace when they refinanced the two homes. That’s not special treatment.– Hartford Courant Editorial, July 31, 2009

Or this:

[T]he ethics panel acknowledged that Mr. Dodd didn’t ask for preferential treatment or even get the best deal Countrywide had to offer.

The committee’s finding … should restore constituents’ faith as well. – Hartford Courant Editorial, August 9, 2009

Or this:

… [A]fter 18,000 pages of documents and a yearlong investigation, the Ethics committee is saying these “sweetheart” loans weren’t even all that sweet. – Politico, August 7, 2009

I could go on and on but I think you get the point.

I don’t know why Moore bought the bunk Feinberg is selling, but it’s a shame that he did. I like Moore’s work and think he’s been an important advocate for liberal issues over the last decade. But this is pretty absurd stuff, which has the potential of undercutting Dodd’s support among liberals in Connecticut and costing Democrats a Senate seat.  I have no clue how costing Dodd his job for something that he has been cleared of any impropriety of is helpful to Michael Moore’s goals. My guess is it isn’t at all and Moore just doesn’t understand the situation he’s wading into nor does he know how weak his sourcing is.

It’s just a shame that after Dodd was finally cleared by the Senate, the CT press, and the DC press, Moore has come out a movie that repeats charges that are factually untrue and politically damaging to one of the Senate’s best legislators. I haven’t seen Moore’s film yet and this aspect of it makes me much less likely to, but I have to imagine that some of Moore’s complaints against capitalism in the US are the sorts of things addressed by Dodd’s recent legislation on and regulation of credit card companies, student loans, debit card overdraft fees, and housing. That is, Moore’s charges are quixotic and counterproductive and, from what I can tell, he owes both Senator Chris Dodd and the viewers of his film an apology and a correction.

Dodd’s Eulogy of Kennedy

Senator Chris Dodd delivered this speech Friday night at the memorial for Senator Kennedy in Boston. It’s a great tribute from one of Ted Kennedy’s closest friends in the world and a sign of what three plus decades of collaboration can achieve for a nation.

Tonight, we gather to celebrate the incredible American story of a man who made so many other American stories possible, my friend Teddy Kennedy.

Unlike his beloved brothers, his sister Kathleen, and his nephews, Teddy was granted the gift of time – he lived, as the Irish poet suggested, not just to comb gray hair, but white hair.

And if you look at what he achieved in his 77 years, it seems, at times, as if he lived for centuries.

Generations of historians will chronicle his prolific efforts on behalf of others. I will leave that to them.

Tonight, I just want to share some thoughts about my friend.

And what a friend he has been – a friend of unbridled empathy, optimism, and full-throated joy.

Examples of his friendship are legion.

Many years ago, a close friend of mine passed away. Teddy didn’t know him.

I was asked to say a few words at the funeral.

As long as I live, I will never forget that, as I stood at the pulpit and looked out over the gathering, there was Teddy, sitting in the back of the church.

He wasn’t there for my friend. He was there for me, at my time of loss.

That was what it was like to have Teddy in your corner.

When our daughters Grace and Christina were born, first call I received was from Teddy.

When I lost the Iowa caucuses last year, not that anyone thought I was going to win, first call I received was from Teddy and Vicki.

When my sister passed away last month, first call I received was from Teddy, even though he was well into the final summer of his own life.

And two weeks ago, as I was coming out of surgery, I got a call from Teddy, his unique voice as loud and booming as ever.

“Well,” he roared, “Between going through prostate cancer surgery and doing town hall meetings, you made the right choice!”

And though he was dying, and I was hurting, he had me howling with laughter in the recovery room as he made a few choice comments, I cannot repeat, about catheters.

As we all know, Teddy had a ferocious sense of humor.

In 1994, he was in the political fight of his life against Mitt Romney.

Before the first debate, held in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, I was with Teddy and his team and, along with everyone else, offering him advice.

“Teddy,” I cautioned, “We Irish always talk too fast. Even if you know the answer to a question, you have to pause, slow down, and appear thoughtful.”

Out he went, and, of course, the first question was something like this: “Senator, you’ve served the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for nearly 35 years in the United States Senate. Explain, then, why this race is so close.”

Teddy paused. And paused. And paused. Five seconds. Ten seconds.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he answered.

After the debate, I said, “Good Lord, Teddy, I didn’t mean pause that long after the first question! What were you thinking about?”

He looked at me and replied, “I was thinking – that’s a damn good question! Why IS this race so close?”

In these last months of his life, I have so treasured our conversations.

At 6:30 in the morning of July 16th, the morning after his Senate health care committee finished five weeks of exhausting work on the bill he had written, and that I believe will be the greatest of his many legacies, my phone rang.

There was Teddy, beyond ecstatic that we had finished our work, and that his committee had been the first to report a bill.

Always the competitor.

Teddy was never maudlin or self-pitying about his illness, but he was always fully aware of what was happening.

Every Irishman’s dream, of course, is to attend our own eulogies. That’s why we call the obituary page the Irish sports page.

And I know he enjoyed a uniquely Celtic kick out of hearing people who abhorred his politics say incredibly nice things about him.

Volumes, of course, will be published by those attempting to unlock the mystery of why Teddy was such an effective legislator.

Was it his knowledge of parliamentary procedure? His political instincts? His passionate oratory? His staff?

Please let me save the pundits and political scientists some time – and all of you some money – and tell you what Teddy’s secret was: People liked him.

Now, he always had a great staff, and great ideas, but that only counts for so much in the United States Senate, if you lack the respect and admiration of your colleagues.

And Teddy earned that respect.

He arrived in Washington as the 30-year-old brother of a sitting president and the attorney general of the United States.

Too many people drew their conclusions about him before he spoke his first words in the Senate.

And over the years, he became a target of partisans who caricatured him as a dangerous liberal.

Now, liberal he was, and very proud of it!

But once you got to know him, as his Senate colleagues did, you quickly learned he was no caricature.

He was a warm, passionate, thoughtful, tremendously funny man who loved his country, and loved the United States Senate.

If you ever needed to find Teddy in the Senate chamber, all you had to do was to listen for that distinctive thunderclap of a laugh, echoing across that hallowed hall as he charmed his colleagues – and, more often than not, got them to vote for whatever it was he was pushing that day.

He served in the Senate for almost a half-century alongside liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and he befriended them with equal gusto.

It’s great to see his friends Senators Orrin Hatch and John McCain here.

It is to their great credit that they so often supported Teddy’s efforts.

And, I say in some jest, it is to Teddy’s great credit that he so rarely supported theirs.

But Teddy’s personal friendships with Orrin and John, and so many other conservatives, weren’t simply the polite working relationships that make politics possible.

They are the real and lasting bonds that make the United States Senate work.

That’s what made Teddy one of our greatest Senators ever.

Some people born with a famous name live off of it. Others enrich theirs. Teddy enriched his.

And, as we begin the task of summing up all that he has done for his country, perhaps we can begin by acknowledging this:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy inspired our America; Robert Kennedy challenged our America; and Teddy changed our America.

Teddy was involved in every major debate in the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.

Nearly every important law passed in the last half century bears his mark, and a great many of them bear his name.

Teddy was defined by his love of our country, his passion for public service, his abiding faith, and his family.

His much-adored Vicki, his children Kara, Teddy, and Patrick, his step-children Caroline and Curran, his grandchildren, nieces and nephews – all of you need to know, you brought him unbounded joy and pleasure.

Teddy was a man who lived for others.

He was a champion for countless people who otherwise might not have had one, and he never quit on them, never gave up on the belief that we could make tomorrow a better day. Never.

Last August in Denver, one year to the day before his passing, Teddy spoke at our national convention.

His gait was shaky, but his blue eyes were clear, and his unmistakable voice rang with strength.

As he passed the torch to another young president, Teddy said: “The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.”

He spoke of the great fight of his life – ensuring that every American, regardless of their economic status, is guaranteed the right to decent health care.

We are all so saddened that he did not live to see that won.

But in a few short days, we will return to our work in Teddy’s Senate.

The blistering days of August will be replaced, I pray, by the cooler days of September.

And we will prevail in the way Teddy won so many victories for our country: by listening to each other; by respecting each other and the seriousness of the institution to which we belong, and where Teddy earned an immortal place in American history.

As he so eloquently eulogized his brother Bobby 40 years ago, Teddy doesn’t need to be enlarged in death beyond what he was in life.

We will remember him for the largeness of his spirit, the depth of his compassion, his persistence in the face of adversity, and the breadth of his achievement.

We will remember him as a man who understood better than most that America is a place of incredible opportunity, hope, and redemption.

He labored tirelessly to make those dreams a reality for everyone.

Those dreams, the ones he spoke of throughout his life, live on like the eternal flame that marks President Kennedy’s grave, the flame that Teddy and Bobby lit 46 years ago.

And in all the years I knew and loved him, that eternal flame has never failed to burn brightly in Teddy’s eyes.

Now, as he re-joins his brothers on the hillside in Arlington, may the light from that flame continue to illuminate our path forward.

And with the work of our own hands, and the help of God, inspired by Teddy’s example, may we lift up this great country that my friend Teddy loved so much.

Memories Adjacent to Ted Kennedy

I never met Senator Ted Kennedy, though my political life has often run close to him and his work.

Last year, when I was working in Alaska for Mark Begich’s Senate campaign, there was a lot of talk about the Kennedy family and the state’s history in presidential elections. John F. Kennedy was the last and only Democratic presidential candidate to campaign for president in Alaska, though he lost the state to Nixon in 1960. Part of the lore I heard about the Kennedy family in Alaska was that Teddy had given the keynote at the Alaska Democratic Convention the night of the California primary in 1968. Upon finishing his speech, I’ve heard, he was told that his brother Robert had been shot. I’d never check until now, but this story isn’t actually true. Ted was in San Francisco speaking on his brother’s behalf the night RFK was murdered in Los Angeles.

It turns out that Ted Kennedy was in Alaska in 1968 and was indeed filling in for his brother Robert, but it was a speech at the Alaska Democratic Party Convention in Sitka on April 17th on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. You can download a digital version of this speech from Alaska’s Digital Archives.

It seems that I was told a history of Ted’s time in Alaska that merges two stories from that spring of 1968, though the convergence of his talk on Dr. King’s assassination and his brother’s assassination weeks later is powerful.

But my strongest connection to Senator Kennedy is through my work for his dear friend, Senator Chris Dodd. I worked on Senator Dodd’s presidential campaign and had the privilege of traveling with him on essentially all of his political trips during 2007 and early 2008. A constant from my travel’s with Senator Dodd were his regular calls with Senator Kennedy.  As Dodd traveled Iowa, New Hampshire and many points in between, it was common for Teddy to call and check in on how he was doing, how life on the campaign trail was treating him. Often Dodd would leave the stage for a speech and when we returned to the car to drive to the next event, he would pull out his cell phone to find a missed call and a voicemail from Teddy. As we’d pull out onto the road, Dodd would call Kennedy back and give him a rundown on the event, on the nature of the crowd and how he was holding up on long, grueling trips through the Iowa heat.

But the times that were most special were when Dodd would get a call from Senator Kennedy  at a free moment, when he could answer the phone and talk to his dear friend. Often Teddy would update Dodd on his time on his boat with his wife Vicki. Once I recall Senator Kennedy calling Dodd to gush with pride about winning a sailing race over the weekend, beating a bunch of young whipper-snappers with style and grace. Dodd’s face would light up while talking with Kennedy and on a tough campaign, they were moments when it was clear how happy he was to hear the voice from a close friend.

I always had real regrets that Senator Kennedy never stepped up and endorsed Senator Dodd for president, especially once it was clear that Teddy would almost certainly get to make another endorsement after Dodd ended his campaign. Many members of the Kennedy family endorsed Senator Dodd; in fact, without the fire fighters and the Kennedy family, I doubt the Dodd campaign would have made it as far as we did.  But Teddy never did and I can’t imagine how that may have hurt Senator Dodd. If it did, he never showed it to his staff — and so people like me who worked for Dodd briefly bore a grudge that our boss would not.

My most fond memory overlooking the friendship between Chris Dodd and Ted Kennedy came on December 17, 2007. It was in the midst of the FISA fight and at a time when Dodd had just effectively blocked progress on the legislation that would dramatically undermine the rule of law in America. That night, Countdown with Keith Olbermann had aired back to back clips of Senator Kennedy and Senator Dodd charging hard to defend civil liberties on the floor of the Senate.

Democratic presidential candidates oppose immunity, but when the FISA debate began today, only one had left Iowa to fight the battle in Washington.  Senator Chris Dodd vowed to filibuster as long as he could to block the immunity provision from the overall FISA bill which is intended to bring the government‘s electronic eavesdropping within shouting distance of constitutionality.  Despite the absence of other candidates, Dodd did get help on the floor today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  The president said that American lives will be sacrificed if congress does not change FISA.   But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retroactive immunity.  No immunity, no FISA bill.  So if we take the president at  his word, he‘s willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies.

SENATOR CHRISTOPHER J. DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Don‘t tell me the legal departments of AT&T and Verizon didn‘t know what the law was.  Of course, they knew what the law was.  To suggest that, somehow, first year law students are pro bono operation here advising them is, of course, phony on its face.  They knew exactly what the law was, as the Qwest company did when they said, “No, give me a court order, and I‘ll comply.”

After Dodd’s intense day on the Senate floor, I came to his house to record a brief message from the Senator to the netroots community that had stood with Dodd against retroactive immunity for telecommunications  companies that helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans. As I entered the house I could see Dodd talking on the phone, laughing and smiling. He was talking to his dear friend Teddy and the two of them were complimenting each other on their great speeches on the floor of the Senate. Both got a big kick out of appearing in back-to-back clips on Countdown. It was an incredible moment and a remarkable thing to witness. Elected officials aren’t elected to become friends – they’re there to do the business of helping the country become a better place. But in the case of Dodd and Kennedy, two men who worked together in the Senate for more than three decades, their friendship came together through hard work towards common goals.

Senator Dodd’s statement on Senator Kennedy’s death is heartfelt and powerful:

“I’m not sure America has ever had a greater Senator, but I know for certain that no one has had a greater friend than I and so many others did in Ted Kennedy.

“I will always remember Teddy as the ultimate example for all of us who seek to serve, a hero for those Americans in the shadow of life who so desperately needed one.

“He worked tirelessly to lift Americans out of poverty, advance the cause of civil rights, and provide opportunity to all. He fought to the very end for the cause of his life – ensuring that all Americans have the health care they need.

“The commitment to build a stronger and fairer America, a more perfect union, was deeply ingrained in the fiber of who he was, and what he believed in, and why he served.

“That’s why he stands among the most respected Senators in history. But it was his sympathetic ear, his razor wit, and his booming, raucous laugh that made him among the most beloved.

“Whatever tragedy befell Teddy’s family, he would always be there for them. Whatever tragedy befell the family of one of his friends, he would always be there for us. And in this moment of profound grief, our hearts are with his wonderful wife Vicki, his fantastic kids Ted Jr., Patrick, Kara, Curran, and Caroline, his grandchildren, and the wide and wonderful extended family for whom he was always a safe harbor.

“I will miss him every day I serve, and every day I live.”

It’s the last line that hits me so hard, because I know that it is true. My heart goes out to Senator Kennedy’s family and our common friend, Senator Chris Dodd.

There will be many, many eulogies and shared memories of Senator Kennedy today. His record is simply too long and too accomplished to adequately summarize, so I won’t bother to try. Our country has last a real hero, a patriot and unequaled civil servant. His presence in the Senate and his character as a leader will be sorely missed.

O’Reilly To Hit Netroots Nation Tonight

So sayeth his Twitter feed.

Of course, O’Reilly has tried to demonize Netroots Nation before. Back in 2007, when it was still called Yearly Kos and there was to be a Democratic presidential candidates forum at the event, BillO went on a weeklong campaign against Daily Kos and the convention. It was effectively put to a stop when Chris Dodd went on The O’Reilly Factor and whipped O’Reilly’s ass on the issue.

MLN Interview with Senator Dodd

Senator Dodd speaks to the MyLeftNutmeg community about his current health issues, reforming healthcare, and the importance of having good coverage and regular checkups. The video was shot by Connecticut Man1, a disabled vetern who writes his own blog on CT politics, as well as regularly contributes on MLN. He talks with Dodd about the possibility of a single payer healthcare system. Dodd points out that he has to deal with the realities of the Senate and getting a public option through is going to be hard enough. He prioritizes getting reform done now over holding out for single payer. Dodd recognizes that this healthcare legislation isn’t going to be the end of the debate on healthcare reform. He closes with the promise that “more will happen in years to come.”