Earlier this week, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) warned that if we don’t rein in the mass surveillance of the National Security Agency (NSA) now, we would live to regret it.
Less than 72 hours later, House Republican leadership allowed a vote on legislation from Justin Amash (R-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI) that would defund the NSA.
The Amash/Conyers amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill would have prevented the government from using Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to collect phone metadata unless the government had a reasonable suspicion that one of the call’s participants was involved in terrorism.
Leaked documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed the agency was allowed to suck in mass amounts of data based on decisions of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court.
The amendment went down 205-217. Democrats supported it at a 111-to-83 margin while Republicans opposed it 93-134.
The Guardian‘s Glenn Greewald gleefully noted that Michele Bachmann (R-MN) joined with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in supporting the White House position of opposing the amendment.
This was not conventional politics as America has come to expect it, with the vote even splitting the hivemind of the Tea Party caucus. Amash is a guy who is against most everything the government does except limiting a woman’s right to choose, but he was supported Wednesday by liberals like Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA).
At one point Mike Rogers (R-MI) accused Amash of only pursing the amendment for “Facebook Likes.” The young congressman has recently expanded his fundraising to build a “national brand.”
“Passing this amendment takes us back to September 10,” Rogers said.
This vote was largely symbolic with no chance of becoming actual law, but it shows that the House is only about seven vote-switching members away from passing a measure that would dramatically change how the NSA operates.
Perhaps a bill from Steve Cohen (D-TN) that would reform the FISA court, making their decisions public and changing the way judges are appointed — so that Chief Justice John Roberts doesn’t get to pick them all himself — is the next step for those seeking to rein in the NSA.
However, getting the House leadership to hold a vote on that bill would take the kind of miracle Amash and Conyers nearly pulled off Wednesday.
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