Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – In a strict party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved a proposal permanently updating the nation's electronic laws despite opposition from the Bush administration.
The bill would mean the nation's intelligence services do not need to request a court warrant to monitor foreign-to-foreign communications involving suspected terrorists.
Administration officials had been lobbying for a permanent change to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) after an intelligence court ruled earlier this year warrants were needed for those communications. Congress in August passed a temporary change and now is considering various bills to make it permanent.
The committee is expected to vote later in the day on a controversial question of whether to grant retroactive immunity to the telecommunication companies that cooperated with the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program. Several of the companies are facing lawsuits over their involvement. The White House is pushing for approval of the immunity provision, but many Democrats on the panel are opposed to it.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, Wednesday saying they would recommend a veto of this bill if it is presented to the president.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has already passed a bill to update the surveillance laws that does include an immunity clause. The versions passed by the Intelligence and Judiciary panels would have to be reconciled into one bill that would then go to the Senate floor for consideration.
Approval of the proposal by the Democrats was assured after late changes were made in several provisions to satisfy Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI. Republicans objected to the effort to push through a complicated FISA modernization plan on which they had not been consulted. One of the key changes approved by the committee would make clear the FISA law is the exclusive authority for approving warrants for electronic surveillance.
The House of Representatives, which has not included the immunity provision, is expected to consider its version of the electronic surveillance bill later Thursday.
– CNN's Terry Frieden and Kevin Bohn