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

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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