By: Michal Kranz
Washington – A vote on Wednesday in the House of Representatives narrowly struck down a bill proposed by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) which would restrict the NSA’s blanket surveillance operations. The measure failed 217 to 205, with a slight majority of Democrats voting for it while a majority of Republicans voted against the bill. Ahead of the vote, the White House has voiced its opposition to the bill, calling it “not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process”. The bill, which had gained bipartisan support, “bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.”
The bill was the first of its kind to be drafted in response to revelations publicized by whistleblower Edward Snowden earlier this year, which also revealed purportedly legal surveillance activities conducted by the NSA and its British counterparts in Europe.
The White House’s comments, delivered by press secretary Jay Carney, are unusual, as the executive branch had rarely addressed a bill before it has reached the floor of either chamber. Such preemptive statements seem to indicate increasing fear amid the administration regarding congressional efforts to undermine its surveillance and monitoring operations, along with a “top secret” meeting held by General Keith Alexander of the NSA with key members of the House to lobby against the bill. The conference’s attendees were forbidden from divulging its proceedings to their constituents under any circumstances.
A key supporter of Amash’s bill was liberal senator Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), along with several other liberal minded congressmen from both sides of the aisle. The NSA bill, along with the larger debate on surveillance and data gathering of US citizens, has revealed an increasingly evident divide in Congress within both parties, with established party leaders supporting the surveillance state, while newer, more libertarian minded members opposing it. Senators like Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) have come out in support of the NSA’s newly revealed functions, while many Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mike Udall (D-Colo.) have vehemently voiced their opposition to the operations.
With Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign run gathering considerable steam within the Republican primaries and his son Rand Paul’s famous speech against signature drone strikes, the libertarian cause for civil liberties seems to be alienating many establishment Washington insiders while gaining widespread public support, often across traditional party lines.