From NBC's Ken Strickland
The Senate is finally expected to wrap up the bill updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act today, which includes the controversial provision of retroactive immunity for telecom companies facing lawsuit. While the bill splits Democrats, it's expected to pass with united Republican support.
Obama will be back for today's vote and has said he'll support final passage.
Before final passage, there will be three efforts to either eliminate or weaken the immunity section of the bill. Those efforts will take the form of three amendments offered by Sens. Dodd/Feingold, Specter, and Bingaman. The key amendment is Dodd/Feingold, which simply removes immunity from the bill and would let the lawsuits proceed. Dodd/Feingold requires a simple majority for passage. Specter and Bingaman require 60 votes. All should fail.
Following the three amendment votes, there will be on procedural vote and then final passage. If, as expected, all the amendments fail and the underlying bill passes, it goes directly to the White House for the President's signature.
The voting starts approximately 11:15 am ET, and everything on FISA should be wrapped up by 12:30 pm ET or so.
*** UPDATE *** Strickland also notes Obama's seeming reversal on FISA: In December of last year, Obama's office said in a written statement, "Senator Obama unequivocally opposes giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies... granting such immunity undermines the constitutional protections Americans trust the Congress to protect. Senator Obama supports a filibuster [blocking] of this bill, and strongly urges others to do the same."
But last month when Democratic leaders cut a deal with the Bush Administration on wiretapping -- a deal that places tighter restrictions on terrorist surveillance but still granted telecoms immunity -- Obama dropped his defiant stance. While still acknowledging the Bush Administration, "has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution," he said he'd support the bill.
In a written statement shortly after the House passed the compromise, Obama said of the bill, "while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's." The statement went on to detail a various improvements in the bill, but ended with a reluctant acknowledgment that he'll vote for it.
"It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program..."