Amash amendment to restrict NSA powers fails by 12-vote margin in House

posted at 10:01 pm on July 24, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

A strange bedfellows moment on the floor of the House Wednesday, as a coalition of libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats joined up in an attempt to restrict the NSA’s domestic spying powers. The amendment was vocally opposed by leadership of both parties, even earning a White House statement against it on the eve of the vote.

Our friend Dave Freddoso captures the moment:

Speaking against the bill on the floor, Reps. Michelle Bachmann and hawkish freshman and Iraq vet Rep. Tom Cotton, among others. The roll call is here, if you’d like to see how your Congressman voted. The totals: 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats in favor, and 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats against.

I’m on the Amash side of this issue. Evidence that the NSA’s domestic spying has actually prevented terrorist attacks has been rather sparse and unconvincing, and while I respect that we occasionally have to make some sacrifices to protect ourselves, coughing up the metadata for every phone call we make doesn’t seem like the right balance to me. Supporters of such programs downplay the idea of metadata, as Cotton did today—“an excel spreadsheet with five columns”—but it only takes a couple of points of metadata to give you a lot of information about a person. Given that we are American citizens not under investigation, I don’t want them having, not to mention storing that information about us. And, I’m with PATRIOT Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner in questioning whether the law even authorizes it.

Critics of the amendment say it’s not so simple:

“It’s very likely that if this Amash amendment fails it will fail because the Democrats are more aligned then we are with robust counterterrorism policies,” the aide said.

“What is this saying about the GOP being the voice for a strong and robust America?” the aide asked.

By attempting to demolish a program that has been proven to protect American lives, Amash “is giving Snowden a success,” the aide said. “What kind of incentive does that send to everyone else about what they can achieve” by leaking top secret information, he asked.

“And it’s the Republicans doing this?” the source asked “The party of Lincoln? The party that stands for a strong defense?”

In addition to sending the wrong public message, Amash’s amendment would prevent the NSA from identifying a terrorist by their phone number, a routine intelligence matter that is a key tool in the fight against terrorists.

“That’s specifically the tool Amash wants to take away,” said the aide.

I imagine we have a split audience in the comments, here, so enjoy the messages circulated by both sides prior to the vote, via TechCrunch:

Opposed to the amendment:

While many Members have legitimate questions about the NSA metadata program, including whether there are sufficient protections for Americans’ civil liberties, eliminating this program altogether without careful deliberation would not reflect our duty, under Article I of the Constitution, to provide for the common defense. Furthermore, the Amash amendment would have unintended consequences for the intelligence and law enforcement communities beyond the metadata program.

In favor:

In short, this amendment would not prohibit the government from spying on terrorists under Section 215, or from collecting information in bulk about American’s under other legal provisions. However, the amendment would prevent the bulk collection of sensitive information on innocent Americans under Section 215 – and important improvement.

The Amash fact sheet:

“The government would have to provide facts to the FISA court to show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records sought (1) are relevant to an appropriately authorized national security investigation and (2) pertain to the person (including any group or corporation) under investigation,” according to his office.

As a limited-government conservative, I find it heartening to see this many House members questioning this policy. Though conventional wisdom suggests selling security at any price is the safer side of this issue with the American people, the closeness of the vote suggests that’s not necessarily still the case. Voters making cost-benefit analyses about any federal program is enough to make my heart sing:

Polls showed the idea — depending on how you describe it — playing incredibly well. Members of Congress read polls. With that in mind, and with other anti-NSA amendments in the offing, the agency actually met with select members of Congress to lobby them. Last night, the White House released a statement to “urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.”…

Had seven members of any party switched their votes, the amendment would have been adopted. But the Speaker of the House wanted this sucker to go down. He voted against it, something he doesn’t have to do unless a bill’s in trouble, and as the vote came in he could be heard saying “I like all those ‘no’ votes!”

Wouldn’t take many more Ayes for this to go differently another time.


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Comment pages: 1 2

Kissmygrits on July 25, 2013 at 9:44 AM

I’m very familiar with Baucus. Worked against him and the rest of the Senate Committees that he pushed thru Obamacare. Everyone of the R’s Amendments were shut down. I spent a fortune on phone bills.

One of the things the 2008 election revealed is how much corruption is in Congress and who they are.

bluefox on July 25, 2013 at 10:00 AM

They will put you on a hands-off list.

sharrukin on July 25, 2013 at 9:49 AM

Yeah, I forgot that little detail…

أوباما يحب الماعز

.

:-)

coldwarrior on July 25, 2013 at 10:02 AM

What puts the lie to their claim to stop terrorism is the marathon bombing and Nidal Hassan. In those cases the government had much more than NSA data and chose to do nothing because of political correctness.

dogsoldier on July 25, 2013 at 5:56 AM

It appears everyone is off limits except American Citizens.

bluefox on July 25, 2013 at 10:02 AM

Time to burn some witches, sounds like.

Let’s start with Andrew C. McCarthy, eh?

I hope, at some point, the Right will stop running around like a bunch of ninnies on this topic. Color me skeptical about the prospect of conforming public policy to match the dictates of Snowden, Greenwald, et al.

But of course that means I’m not really a conservative, eh?

And the libertarian tail continues to wag the Republican dog. Lunacy.

ConservativeLA on July 25, 2013 at 10:31 AM

And the libertarian tail continues to wag the Republican dog. Lunacy.

ConservativeLA on July 25, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Libertarian? Have you read the 4th amendment to the Constitution? Is it libertarian to expect our government follow the limits imposed on it 200+ years ago?

Clark1 on July 25, 2013 at 10:41 AM

Want a real Fourth Amendment issue? DNA collection from arrestees hardly gets a mention; instead, all the NSA hysterics. The former is far more a legitimate Constitutional concern than the latter.

ConservativeLA on July 25, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Have you read the 4th amendment to the Constitution?

Clark1 on July 25, 2013 at 10:41 AM

This is what substitutes for argument on this topic.

ConservativeLA on July 25, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Good to see all the real conservatives making common cause with Grayson and Conyers. A shining moment for the movement.

ConservativeLA on July 25, 2013 at 11:01 AM

OH LOOK – Paul Ryan and Michelle Bachmann voted for NSA spying.

Glad to see that all of Colorado voted correctly, Kansas… almost….

To see you state representative, here is a good link: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/113-2013/h412

-west

mr_west on July 25, 2013 at 11:10 AM

Want a real Fourth Amendment issue? DNA collection from arrestees hardly gets a mention; instead, all the NSA hysterics. The former is far more a legitimate Constitutional concern than the latter.

ConservativeLA on July 25, 2013 at 10:47 AM

ALL violations of the Constitution are a concern, including the one you mentioned. This has been going on for years and the American people were asleep. Now that many are awake, you see the pushback.

Better late than never, imo. Can we be successful? I don’t know.
What I do know is that if we don’t fight, we have no chance of winning.

We have very few in Congress that are fighting, but we must support them.

If you have a better way, by all means post your comment.

bluefox on July 25, 2013 at 11:14 AM

OH LOOK – Paul Ryan and Michelle Bachmann voted for NSA spying.

Glad to see that all of Colorado voted correctly, Kansas… almost….

To see you state representative, here is a good link: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/113-2013/h412

-west

mr_west on July 25, 2013 at 11:10 AM

I know they did. I read what Bachmann said and she didn’t get it right.

Colorado is the first I’ve heard that voted right. I haven’t had time to check the State votes, just my own.

Thanks for the link. I just checked it and MA all but one voted yes!

A link I use a lot is http://www.congressmerge.com Click on Congress for each State info.

bluefox on July 25, 2013 at 11:28 AM

If you have a better way, by all means post your comment.

bluefox on July 25, 2013 at 11:14 AM

We can start by dropping the hysteria (including assuming that everything that Snowden says via his sockpuppet Greenwald is gospel), and by differentiating real Constitutional issues from imagined ones. The idea that phone records carry with them a reasonable expectation of privacy is as much an invented invocation of a supposed Constitutional right to privacy as when that “right” is invoked in the context of Roe v. Wade.

ConservativeLA on July 25, 2013 at 11:33 AM

great to see bipartisan support to deny our 4th amendment rights

burserker on July 25, 2013 at 1:46 PM

bluefox on July 25, 2013 at 11:14 AM

We can start by dropping the hysteria (including assuming that everything that Snowden says via his sockpuppet Greenwald is gospel), and by differentiating real Constitutional issues from imagined ones. The idea that phone records carry with them a reasonable expectation of privacy is as much an invented invocation of a supposed Constitutional right to privacy as when that “right” is invoked in the context of Roe v. Wade.

ConservativeLA on July 25, 2013 at 11:33 AM

The reaction from this Administration and NSA Officials give credence to what Snowden has revealed. Also, the Amash Amendment also. Verizon have made statements too. Has not this Administration charged him with espionage? Do you think they just made this up and what Snowden has revealed is just a lie? Because they didn’t like the color of his hair or something of no account?

Regarding the Phone records, who owns them? My understanding is that the Phone companies do. I’m sure if I read my agreement with them, it would not say that the Government owns them. Do you think an official from NSA or the Government could stop by my mail box and remove my mail, scan it but not read it but store it for future use without a warrant?

What about Legal Contracts that a person makes with a Private Enterprise? Do you think they contain a clause that the NSA or the Government have rights to them? I certainly don’t.

Our Constitution matters and the Bill of Rights, ALL of it. Violations of any, whether out in the open or in secret is what this is all about.

bluefox on July 25, 2013 at 4:05 PM

LOVE the erica phone!

My parents still have theirs in their collection.

thejackal on July 25, 2013 at 9:44 PM

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