Mitch Perry Report – 11.19.14

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Former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon often likes to say these days that “60 is the new 40,” but in American politics, 60 has become the 51 for quite some time now.

By that I mean the two big votes in the U.S. Senate that “lost” last night — the Keystone XL pipeline (also known as the Save Mary Landrieu Act) bill and the vote to reform the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, both had strong majorities in their favor. But in fact the pipeline lost on a 59-41 vote, and the NSA bill  went down by a 58-42 margin.

Sixty votes were needed to end debate on a motion to proceed in both cases, which means a total of three votes on the two bills were all the difference. The rules of the Senate require 60 votes to end debate on a bill, in what’s known as cloture.  Cloture used to require a two-thirds majority, back before these so-called “filibusters” were much rarer. Frankly, I don’t care what the Founding Fathers were thinking about — the fact that a minimum of 40 senators can stop any and all legislation from going forward seems to be one (of many reasons) why people think Washington is dysfunctional.

But back to the substance of the NSA vote. Obviously the anger that a lot of folks had a year and a half ago when the revelations from NSA leaker Ed Snowden were exposed have significantly dissipated. Blame ISIS for that.

The bill would have ended the NSA’s ability to collect records about Americans’ phone calls in bulk, and would have required that the agency obtain a court order before asking private phone companies for their records about suspected terrorists. It would also add a team of privacy advocates to the secretive federal court overseeing intelligence activities — which currently only hears arguments from the government — and requires the government to disclose how many people were wrapped up in its searches.

Both Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson opposed the measure, with Nelson being in the distinct minority of Democrats to do so. Republicans Mike Lee of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska supported the bill, as did California’s Diane Feinstein, who has angered her liberal supporters for not being more critical about the agency’s surveillance tactics.

“If we do not protect our Constitution, we do not protect our country and we do not deserve to be in this body,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) after the vote.

In other news…

A coalition of groups that want to lift Florida from being an outlier when it comes to restoring voting rights to ex-felons are attempting to get the measure on the 2016 ballot. 

While Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant convenes a task force to figure out what went wrong in this month’s election, her vice chair, Tampa’s Alan Clendenin, says he doesn’t want to hear anything about the party going to the center.

Congressman David Jolly says it’s foolhardy to vote to repeal Obamacare, realizing that the president would automatically veto such legislation if it made its way to his desk. So instead he’s introducing legislation that would remove the individual mandate from the ACA — also not likely to escape Obama’s veto pen, if it gets there.

And Sandy Murman is your new Hillsborough County Commission chairperson.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.