House in Rare Hush-Hush Huddle on Spy Bill

First secret session called in 25 years
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2008 4:20 AM CDT
The House was cleared and checked for surveillance devices ahead of last night's secret session to debate amendments to surveillance laws.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – The House held its first secret session in 25 years last night to debate a revamped spy bill, Reuters reports. Republicans said they needed the secrecy to give examples of how proposed changes to surveillance laws could endanger national security. The Democrats consented—but some skeptics suspected it was a ploy by Republican lawmakers to delay a vote on the bill. The measure rebuffs demands from President Bush to provide lawsuit immunity to phone companies that participated in his controversial wiretapping program.

The vote postponed to make time for the secret session was rescheduled for today. Secret sessions were common in the early days of the Republic but last night's was only the fifth since the War of 1812. It began as soon as guards cleared the viewing chamber—and checked for listening devices. The session, scheduled to last an hour, was considerably shorter than the 90-minute public debate about whether to hold the session that preceded it, the Washington Post reports,