One of those arguing on the floor for the amendment was Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), an author of the Patriot Act, who received applause after saying “the time has come to stop” heavy-handed domestic surveillance.
Conyers and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) circulated a “dear colleague” letter to Democrats urging support for the amendment. Amash and other libertarian GOPs allied with civil-liberties Dems to force leadership to allow a vote.
“If we are going down the road of allowing the government to collect everything on us, then we will go down the road of also allowing the government to put cameras in our homes and to track us everywhere we go in the name of safety. We have a deep tradition of liberty in this country and we must follow the Constitution,” Amash said today on Fox Business.
“We absolutely live in a risky world, but it’s very important that we comply with the Constitution, because when we throw things like the Fourth Amendment out the window, we lose our freedoms. And we are trying to protect ourselves against people who are allegedly fighting us because they hate our freedoms,” he continued. “Well, in the process, we can’t lose our freedoms.”
In the end, the House overwhelmingly agreed to a gentler amendment from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) saying that the NSA is not allowed to use taxpayer funds to acquire and store the content of a U.S. individual’s phone calls or emails.
That amendment, which basically just reaffirms current law, passed 409-12 with unanimous Republican support.
The House then passed the $595 billion defense bill 315-109. The bill funds a pay raise for service members and includes an amendment prohibiting civilian Defense Department furloughs next year.
The appropriations legislation, which is under a veto threat from President Obama for including “the House Republican Budget framework,” now goes to the Senate. It’s unknown if Paul will bring a similar effort in the upper chamber, which would similarly cause fault lines within the parties up there.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), another fierce critic of the administration on civil liberties, said it was progress to see the surveillance debate “in public and on the floor of the Congress, rather than another closed hearing or backroom meeting.”
“Today’s vote shows that the reformers who are championing this viewpoint are continuing to gain momentum in the House and Senate,” Wyden said, congratulating Amash and Conyers for their effort. “I am confident that they will continue to advance the cause of surveillance reform in the House of Representatives, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to keep advancing it in the Senate.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said after the vote that the intelligence reauthorizing bill “is the best place to address these issues to ensure we have both the right tools and the right protections for civil liberties.”
“Considering this subject on an appropriations bill prevents us from considering how best to amend the law to ensure we achieve both goals,” he said. ”That is why I opposed the Amash amendment.”
“This is not about how sincere the NSA people are at implementing this technique, it is not about how careful they are,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairman of the Privacy Caucus and a backer of the Amash amendment, said on the floor. “It is about whether they have the right to collect the data in the first place on every phone call, every American, every day.”