This time, we can’t blame the Republicans.
BY Cole Stangler
July 26, 2013
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of legislators in the House came extraordinarily close to passing an amendment that would have prevented the National Security Agency from collecting bulk data on Americans. The Amash-Conyers amendment would have limited Section 215 of the Patriot Act to apply only to individuals subject to investigation under that law, barring mass surveillance programs like PRISM.
Failing by a 217-205 vote, the amendment earned support from an unlikely coalition of Republicans and Democrats—a group that could perhaps lead future legislative rebellions against the surveillance state.
A majority of Democrats actually supported the amendment, in defiance of party leadership, the White House and the NSA itself, which, in a moment of panic, organized an emergency meeting the day of the vote in which director Keith Alexander personally lobbied against the measure. At the end of the day, 83 Democrats still voted against it.
Most of the “no” votes came from what Glenn Greenwald characterized as the “establishment” wing of the party. These include figures like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), once a fierce critic of the Bush administration’s attack on civil liberties, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.). Hoyer, who sent out an alarmist and factually incorrect email to House Democrats in his efforts to shoot down the amendment, asserting that it would bar the NSA and other agencies to collect records of people who “may be in communication with terrorist groups.” Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) also voted against the amendment, as did Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel (N.Y.).
But in addition to the more predictable defenders of the White House and the national security state, the “no” camp included support from some Democrats who typically lean left on a number of issues, from the economy to military spending and even civil liberties. With the Amash-Conyers amendment failing by such a close margin, these key Democrats could have helped swing the vote.
Eight of those votes to defend the NSA’s blanket surveillance came from the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), the left flank of the Democratic Party in Congress.