The House Judiciary Committee has become even more captivating since it last made the Madisonville news , in the days after Thanksgiving. Members got together Tuesday to consider changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under which the Obama administration is gathering data on every American’s phone calls and emails with the help of a FISA court that doesn’t like to give "no" for an answer.
At least some members got together for that purpose. Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen wasn’t one of them. He wanted to welcome a special group and the enthusiasm in his voice made the listener momentarily think the Rockettes might be in the room, or at least an a cappella group from Memphis, somebody to lighten the mood of the hearing. Cohen offered instead members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner was there to remind everybody that Congress still has members who think the place has something to do with legislation. Sensenbrenner can also growl, telling the administration official that the government is misusing the authority Congress gave it and its actions are about to result in the loss of that authority altogether.
Intelligence officials are gathering the phone and email data because they see everybody as a security risk and want to have evidence available in case a crime is committed. The administration says it listens to the actual calls and reads the emails only when it really, really, really needs to. And when, as Virginia Democrat Robert C. Scott slyly pointed out, an intelligence worker wants to spy on a love interest.
California Republican Darrell Issa thinks his calls should qualify for scrutiny, although apparently not because of anybody he is dating. Let’s say I talked to somebody in Lebanon, who talked to somebody in Lebanon, who talked to somebody in Lebanon, who talked to somebody in Lebanon, who talked to somebody in Lebanon, Issa started. (The deputy attorney general who testified must have hoped this would keep going for Issa’s full five minutes.)
Issa eventually got to the point that he’s worthy of surveillance if the person at the end of his phone tree was a terrorist. This is Issa’s idea of being caught with a smoking gun. Worth noting is Issa's chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson brought up Osama bin Laden, calling him one of the top five leaders of al-Qaida. Johnson notes this in a tone usually associated with a listing of the meanest guys in professional wrestling or the best greasy-spoon restaurants in Washington. The listener had to poke himself to remember who bin Laden was, given that he's been dead almost three years running now.