Ed blogged it this morning but it’s worthy of an open thread too, not just because the future of the surveillance state is a momentous issue but because this is a rare House vote where I have zero clue how it’s going to go. I think it’s headed for a handy defeat because hawkish Republicans won’t want to take away a counterterror tool and loyal Democrats won’t want to embarrass Obama, but I don’t know how handy. I don’t even know which side will provide more votes in favor. It’s an unusually opaque floor vote and a temperature check on where the Republican caucus stands these days on civil liberties versus national security. Is the Amash/Rand Paul contingent stronger than thought, or is the GOP still basically Bush’s party? Matt Welch is quite right: If Obama’s half as serious as he pretends to be in calling for a “national conversation” about surveillance or whatever, this is a fine place to start.
There is reason to think the libertarians will do better than thought. The White House, as Ed noted, is sufficiently worried about this to have sent NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander to lobby Congress last night. C-SPAN says floor debate is set for 5:15 ET and I’m hearing on Twitter that the final votes of the day are scheduled for 5:45-6 p.m. This is worth watching. Stand by for updates.
Update: Justin Amash, who sponsored the amendment, was on Fox News within the past hour arguing that NSA surveillance is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. I can’t find the video online yet but I’ll post it here once it’s up.
In the meantime, a question: Should the GOP line up behind this, if only for tactical reasons? The bill’s going nowhere in the Senate so there’s no risk of the NSA actually losing funding. Republicans could woo disaffected libertarians with a symbolic vote here and put Harry Reid and Obama on the spot as defenders of massive data-mining against civil liberties. Don’t forget that they’ll have some bipartisan cover too; surely a few Democrats in the House care enough about this issue, a la Ron Wyden in the Senate, that they’ll vote with Amash. The potential pitfall for Republicans in doing that is that, as noted this morning, most of the public doesn’t object to NSA surveillance. Most/many of those people are probably lukewarm, though, and won’t care about a vote for a bill that has no chance of becoming law. It’s the NSA critics who are passionate, and those critics will appreciate the gesture. I’ll bet there are more Republican votes than expected for Amash’s bill, precisely for this reason.
Update: Since we’re on the subject of the NSA, and since I already posted something about the public’s views of Snowden this morning, yikes:
Per NBC/WSJ poll, Snowden's fav/unfav is 11%-35% — an opinion pretty much shared by Dems, GOPers, and indies alike
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) July 24, 2013
Update: Good news for libertarians from the same poll:
More than a month after leaker Edward Snowden revealed information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance and data-gathering programs, 55 percent of Americans say they’re more worried the United States will go too far in violating privacy rights, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
That’s a significant shift from the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when an equal number in the Dec. 2001 NBC/WSJ poll — 55 percent — worried more that the United States wouldn’t go far enough in monitoring potential terrorists who live in the U.S.
The last time the poll asked this question, in July 2006, Americans were split, with 45 percent worried that this surveillance would violate privacy rights and with 43 percent worried it wouldn’t go far enough to pursue potential terrorists.
How quickly will the numbers revert if/when there’s a new attack?
Update: As promised, here’s Amash:
Update: The amendment failed — narrowly. 205/217, with Nancy Pelosi voting no to protect O. I can’t wait to see what the partisan breakdown was. Stand by for the roll.
Update: The partisan breakdown:
Amash NSA Amendment VOTE BREAKDOWN: YEAS: GOP – 94::DEM – 111 // NAYS: GOP – 134::DEM – 83 // TOTAL: 205-217
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorpNBC) July 24, 2013
Rarely do you see votes like that in the House these days. Philip Klein’s right, though: Those numbers wouldn’t be quite as bipartisan if a Republican was in the White House.