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Democrats Gird for FISA Vote

Hoping to avoid another technical knock-out by the Republican minority as the House takes up rules governing federal wiretapping and surveillance programs, Democratic leaders mounted an aggressive effort on Wednesday to whip Members against an expected GOP procedural maneuver — even as the details of that maneuver remained unknown.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday he is encouraging rank-and-file lawmakers to vote against any motion to recommit — one of the few procedural items in the minority party’s toolbox that allows them to offer legislative alternatives when a bill reaches the floor — when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act returns to the House as early as today.

“I’m going to ask them to vote ‘no,’” Hoyer said, adding that he is confident in passage of the legislation itself: “There’s no doubt we have the votes to pass our FISA bill as is.”

Democratic leaders have refused to issue blanket decrees on the majority of motions to recommit during the 110th Congress — and Hoyer denied he would do so on the pending FISA legislation — with the exception of “killer bills” that would technically shelve legislation if approved.

But Republicans forced an expected vote on the surveillance measure from the floor in mid-October when they offered such a motion to recommit. Under the proposal, Democrats would have had to vote against the motion — which vowed the legislation would not interfere with pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida — or vote in favor of it and shelve the bill, either way producing fodder for election ads next year.

Conservative and moderate Democrats, including members of the Blue Dog Coalition, acknowledged Wednesday a strong effort by the Whip team to commit Members to voting against any new motion to recommit, but they declined to discuss the endeavor on the record. One Democrat noted that such commitments appeared unlikely, given that Members had not yet seen the language of the expected procedural maneuver.

“The challenge is the motion to recommit. That’s what we’re focusing on,” said Kristie Greco, spokeswoman for Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). “Their purpose is to make a political hit, not to make a policy change.”

Republicans acknowledged Wednesday that they are contemplating another political bombshell, but details were not available at press time.

“If you think our intelligence community and our military personnel should have to consult with lawyers before they listen to the communications of foreign terrorists in foreign countries, then you’re going to love this bill,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “The remaining 99.9 percent of Americans will oppose it and continue to wonder why Democrats let the [American Civil Liberties Union] write their national security bills.”

The Rules Committee approved debate guidelines Wednesday evening on a party-line vote, closing the measure to amendments on the House floor over Republican objections.