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Where Is the GOP on the NSA Scandal?

Polls show voters from both parties are distrustful of Obama's expanded surveillance; one state lawmaker is trying to get Washington to listen.

Bridget Johnson


August 27, 2013 - 5:21 pm

Out of all the scandals to befall the Obama administration, former contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of National Security Agency surveillance have stoked a lasting sense of outrage among strong majorities across the political spectrum.

A July Washington Post-ABC News poll found 70 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans, as well as 76 percent of independents, agreeing that NSA surveillance of phone records and Internet traffic violates Americans’ privacy rights. A late July poll from the Pew Research Center for People & the Press found that only 30 percent believe there are currently appropriate limits on data collected and 70 percent think the government is using collected information for purposes other than fighting terrorism. And new details from the Snowden leaks and supplemental reporting keep dribbling out, provoking questions about how forthright the administration has been with Congress and the American people regarding the extent and uses of surveillance programs.

And yet Republicans seem to have ceded the scandal to a handful of civil libertarian Democrats and  GOPs instead of wholeheartedly picking up the hot-button issue and running with it.

In fact, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was quick to label Snowden a “traitor,” putting GOP leadership in the White House’s corner shortly after the scandal broke.

President Obama, Boehner said in early June, outlined “these are important national security programs to help keep Americans safe, and give us tools to fight the terrorist threat that we face.”

A late July amendment from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) to block funding for the NSA’s mass collection of phone metadata nearly passed the House, failing 205-217 but alarming many on the Hill and in the White House in the process. Ninety-four Republicans joined with 111 Democrats in voting for the amendment, bringing together unlikely allies such as Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Among the “no” votes were allies Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-N.Y.).

But the fiercest, most consistent opposition in Congress has come from a small core of privacy advocates, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Amash, and Patriot Act author Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

In lieu of any concerted focus from the national GOP on the NSA scandal, lawmakers at the state and local levels are trying to make their voices heard in Washington.

“I think it’s incumbent on all elected officials in every state legislature to weigh in on issues where we’re not seeing federal action,” California Assemblyman Travis Allen (R ) told PJM today.

Allen had just come from a Judiciary Committee hearing where his resolution urging Washington to respect Americans’ civil liberties was tabled as only four of the 10 committee members cast a vote.

“Resolved by the Assembly and the Senate of the State of California, jointly, that the Legislature of the State of California urges Congress and the President of the United States to make the protection of civil liberties and national security equal priorities, to immediately discontinue any practices that are contrary to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and to instruct our national security agencies to ensure that national security will be achieved without invasive violations of civil liberties; and be it further resolved, that this is not a partisan issue, but rather a constant concern that has been in the hearts of every American since the creation of our great nation and the ratification of the United States Constitution,” states AJR 26.

The resolution drew “huge” support as the assemblyman heard from people all over the country sharing “encouragement and, quite frankly, outrage.”

But within the statehouse, Allen saw division and heard from many lawmakers who have issues with  domestic surveillance but debated whether a state should be wading in. He also noticed “a lot of apprehension” among Democrats who were wary of being critical of the administration, though the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in as a “huge champion across party lines.”

Some legislators said it was a timely issue, but it was “a bit early to weigh in.”

“It’s never too early to protect our constitutional freedoms,” Allen said. “It’s never too early to protect our privacy.”

Though the resolution won’t likely hit the floor this session, the assemblyman said he’ll keep working with Democrats and Republicans to forge bipartisan agreement on the need to protect privacy rights.

That negotiating promises to be as delicate a balance in the Golden State as in the District of Columbia, where pro-NSA allies also cross party lines — such as intelligence panel chairs Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

Allen said the reluctance of many GOPs to take up the Fourth Amendment cause stems from the traditional national security position of the Republican Party — though “what we’re seeing now is that the Obama administration has not only continued but expanded” programs started under President George W. Bush. “It really does cross over all party lines,” he said.

The California Republican noted “there is a huge national desire to protect all of our personal freedoms; I think the libertarian movement has drawn support from both sides of the political spectrum and has really captivated much of the youth.”

Indeed, polling has showed Obama taking a particularly noticeable hit in approval among young people as the NSA revelations continue to mushroom. Yet it’s still a hands-off scandal for many Republicans.

“It would seem that these values are naturally aligned with the Republican Party and forward-thinking leaders would do well to embrace the libertarian community and to embrace the things that really make our country great,” Allen said of privacy concerns.

The fact that Sensenbrenner has crossed from crafting the Patriot Act to decrying the NSA programs “tells you a lot about the nature of the debate and it tells you a lot about how good ideas can have unintended consequences.”

“After 9/11 there was a huge awareness of the need for national security,” Allen continued. “I think the Patriot Act’s authors are now coming to the realization while we do value our security we value our freedom more.”

An Orange County small-business owner in his first term, the assemblyman attributed some of the reluctance to stand up to the NSA programs to an “establishment mentality.”

“I think there is an establishment mentality that’s pervasive and it’s on both sides of the political spectrum, and it’s our job as interested citizens and as elected officials to always ask ourselves the larger questions of what’s at stake regardless of what may have been legalized before,” Allen said. “We have to ask ourselves what is the best way to protect our freedom while at the same time protecting ourselves from threats, both from foreign and domestic terrorists.”

And he disagrees with Boehner’s assessment of the onetime Booz Allen Hamilton contractor.

“I don’t think Snowden’s a traitor,” said Allen. “Without Snowden’s revelations we wouldn’t know the extent of this … this series of revelations have the potential to be huge benefits to our society and help us protect what’s important.”

The outrage coming from grass-roots America, regardless of party affiliation, is “a growing awareness in the country that this is not the sort of society I want to live in.”

“The society we live in is uniquely American,” Allen said. “This is why we choose to live in this country and that’s what makes our country great.”

“What if at end of every day every American had to report every phone call they made, every email? There’d be a revolt. That’s what’s happening now and happening for the past decade and it’s about time we stand up to it.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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Where is the GOP on this issue, same place they are on Obamacare, same place they are on IRS abuses or recess appointments, same as FnF or Bhengazi, Solyndra, Obama phones, GM bondholders name your poison. The GOP is collectively rubbing their hands together and just waiting for their next at bat when they will get a chance to unleash big gov against the other team. GWB set the table for Obama, the next Republican prez will take the Obama administration's tyrannical practices to heights never seen before.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The fight is about which party or politician gets to exercise power of everyone. The fight isn't about shrinking government or limiting government power.

Really? When was the last time that republicans or conservatives actually limited government power or slashed government red tape, or slashed the budget?

The size, cost and power of government has only increased under each administration and whether Democrats or Republicans/conservatives were in power in The House and the Senate. It has never decreased.

Hint: They're lying to you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am afraid most of the fight is phony. Not phony in the sense that good Republicans are being insincere when they express their firmly held believe that NSA surveillance in many respects has done serious harm to our political and privacy rights.

Phony in the sense that they know there is nothing much they can do about it. The Courts have already stripped us of those rights that would otherwise seem to make clear why the NSA is in the wrong.

Courts have denied privacy rights are violated in too many cases for it to be otherwise. If I walk down the street with a friend and talk to him I do not have any inalienable or absolute right that no one hear me.

If I am talking and pass someone sweeping in front of their store who hears me I cannot argue that per see his hearing me is a violation of a privacy right.

By extension the police do have the right to follow me without being intrusive and over hear my conversation. If I am talking on the street I have no valid expectation of privacy.

If I mail a letter to you and put the envelope into the mail box, as far as the Courts are concerned does the government violate my privacy if it records my and your address on a letter I sent if they do not open the letter?

Conservative arguments that you can't trust the government not to misses the point. What right DOES the government have to know I sent you a letter? That is already a violation of my privacy rights - but not recognize as such by the courts.

Another government and Court wrinkle is that he government can collect phone calls between phone numbers because the phone company owns the transmission tower and it is no longer your property.

But the following are not now my rights which is the problem - when I give a letter to the post office I authorize them only to deliver it. Not record it. Likewise when I join a cell phone company I allow them to transmit my phone call but nothing more.

The point of these Court decision is not only to expand government intrusion but - more important - to ignore and reduce our rights.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The GOP is either supporting it (Rep King, etc) or fighting amongst itself (Cruz, Paul, Christie, etc). Basically being ineffectual. It needs to pull up its panties and stand firm against further unconstitutional government activities.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Inaccurate analysis. Chris Christie should be shown with King, supporting the NSA spying. Cruz and Paul should be shown as the Leaders of the opposition against unwarranted spying. It is ridiculous to paint them as "fighting amongst one another" when you in the next breath ask for a firm stand against the very thing they are taking a firm stand on. Cruz, Paul, Mike Lee, Justin Amash, Sensenbrenner and Sarah Palin are the principled opposition. What is notable about this group? None of them are among the Republican Party leadership. They are all treated as undesirables by the Ruling Class of the Republican Party, and, apparently by you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"They know that this kind of carefully controlled, foreign targeted surveillance is necessary to our national security, and they know that most Americans also understand this."

Thank you for the regime's point of view, Mr. Carney. 'Carefully controlled'. I don't think those words mean what you think they mean. The secret, unaccountable court that supposedly oversees these activities rubberstamps that minority of cases where warrants are requested. But the vast majority of data collected on Americans is is vacuumed in without warrant or probable cause. All emails, all telephone conversations, all computer browsing. All with no accountability.

With the regime violating the law and Constitution at every turn; we are nowhere near the level of trust required for Americans to assume that this is not laying the foundation for a police state. They have violated their Oath to the Constitution so many times, that assuming ill intent is the only rational response.

As far as the Institutional Republicans are concerned, they are going to be silent, as they have since 2011. They will not fight back, because they are as Statist as the Democrats.

Two weeks ago, I went to a Congressional Town Hall. Mind you, my Congressman and his staff know me, some of the staff have known me for decades. I have been a delegate to his nominating convention voting for him every time he has run, and I probably would have been again if I had not left the Republican Party in disgust in January.

One of the staffers said, "I know you have questions. Don't go easy on him!". I wasn't. I tore into Obama for his violations of the law and the Constitution. Then I tore into the Republican Caucus for not taking any steps to oppose it, naming specifics. Then I tore into my Congressman for not standing up himself. Had trouble, because the 3-400 people there kept applauding. And I ended up getting a standing ovation. My Congressman had no answer.

The Republicans are not going to defend the Constitution. We are in another paradigm than the one we grew up with.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Old school idiots are in on it. Time for cleaning house.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Seriously? Where is the gop on anything? I want a third alternative!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The reason is probably Republicans are more responsible about national security than are Libertarians and Democrats. They understand that this is a far more complex issue than presented by the hysterics on the left and right. They know that this kind of carefully controlled, foreign targeted surveillance is necessary to our national security, and they know that most Americans also understand this. They know that such a program will always be abused by a few, producing lurid headlines, but that it is needed.

And... they know that we will eventually be hit with an attack that will have the American people screaming for a much more intrusive and less well thought out program, unless we already have one in place.

Finally, unlike the many other Obama scandals, this one is not partisan. The IRS suppressed conservative votes. Obama violates the Constitution when ignoring the Obamacare law's requirements.

But the NSA program is supported by both sides, is monitored by Congress and the Judiciary, is constitutional, and so far has had no indications of political (as opposed to personal) abuse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I suspect it'll come out that the NSA spying has been for the advancement of political goals of the current administration. I also strongly suspect that it's been used to collect blackmailable material to coerce legislative and judicial decisions in the President's favor.

The reason it's "non-partisan" is because it's in the Dem's favor, and the GOP refuses to rock the boat. The one that's diving beneath the waves.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have more than a suspicion. I am a retired Peace Officer, and I have some skill at reading people's behavior patterns. There are very few reasons strong enough to make so many politicians and judges change their behavior so drastically. Blackmail and extortion are way up there on the list of reasons.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They are on vacation with President Obama at Martha's Vineyard. Life is good.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And I dispute that this is the most scandalous of the scandals. The IRS is the most scandalous because that is an agency that really DOES reach every citizen, as opposed to the NSA which still has yet to be shown to have violated a single specific individual's right to privacy that resulted in harm to that individual. Call me when you find such a violation.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your argument boils down to:
"The NSA hasn't harmed anyone because the agency head (an admitted congressional testimony perjurer) says he hasn't."

It's already caused me to change my behavior, and stopped me from participating in legal activities, because I know history. First you make the lists, then you round them up.

PS: IBM's help to the evil people of the 30's helped millions rounded up and murdered wholesale. If you think that can't happen here, please note that Japanese were rounded up and many died of neglect in concentration camps at the same time in this country.

So yes, my rights have already been infringed, and I don't feel secure in my home, person or papers. Also google: LOVINT.

And if you think they'd use the IRS but not the NSA to supress votes and manipulate election outcomes, I recommend re-assessing your worldview.

There's a couple of violations.

And, let's face it. You're demanding specific crimes showing actionable damages which can only come from leaks inside the most secret of government agencies in existence. You're only hearing about any problems at all because an idealistic Obama-drone became disillusioned enough to literally risk his life by dumping enough information to get himself prosecuted for treason (a capital offense).

This is the same administration that ran guns to Mexican drug cartels solely for a political point. Is there any way on earth they *wouldn't* use the most powerful spy setup in human history to further their own ends?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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