Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash told CNN’s State of the Union that he would push the House for another vote to defund the NSA telephone and internet surveillance programs. An effort in the House last month fell short by just 12 votes, 217-205.
Since then, the revelation that thousands of violations of privacy rules occurred in the NSA programs have roiled Congress, angering even many Democrats. Amash thinks that because of those revelations, another vote would by successful.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll have another opportunity,” said Amash on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It might not be exactly the same amendment.”
A measure from Amash which would have prevented the NSA from collecting phone records of American citizens not under investigation for any crimes was narrowly defeated last month in the House.
Amash, though, vowed Sunday to continue efforts to curb the NSA’s powers.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll have a way to amend some kind of policy legislation in the future,” he said.
The vote on Amash’s amendment came before the most recent leak by Edward Snowden, which detailed an NSA audit that found thousands of instances in which the privacy of Americans had been violated in the agency’s effort to gather intelligence.
Amash said that he’s confident many of his House colleagues would change their vote in light of the new revelations and that his measure would stand a better chance at passage.
He said the American public and lawmakers are becoming increasingly aware of how flawed the NSA’s programs are, emphasizing that Congress needs to take steps to increase its oversight of intelligence gathering operations.
“The system’s not working,” said Amash. “Americans were told by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that there were zero privacy violations and we know that’s not true.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith told the Washington Times that “more like 20-30” members would be willing to switch their vote:
“We only needed seven votes to switch and I think there were at least seven, probably more like 20-30, who had their concerns about the program but were prepared to give the intelligence agencies the benefit of the doubt,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican, told The Washington Times after the NSA rules violations came to light.
The House in late July voted 217-205 to defeat an amendment that would have cut funds for domestic data gathering by the NSA except where based on individualized suspicion.
Mr. Griffith says that the intelligence community, which defended the program and worked to preserve it against the legislation onslaught, misled Congress.
“We were being told there were ‘some’ errors, like a few,” Mr. Griffith said, referring to sworn congressional testimony about the domestic programs from senior intelligence, FBI and Justice Department officials. “They gave everyone the impression these [errors] were very rare. If [my colleagues] had realized how many [violations of privacy protection or legal rules] there were, I think more than seven of them would have switched.”
Rand Paul thinks that the constitutionality of the surveillance programs should be decided by the Supreme Court:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday called for a Supreme Court review of the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s top-secret surveillance programs, arguing that congressional hearings and new safeguards announced by President Obama might not be sufficient to ensure privacy rights.
“I think the constitutionality of these programs needs to be questioned, and there needs to be a Supreme Court decision that looks at whether what they are doing is constitutional or not,” Paul told “Fox News Sunday.”
“The checks and balances are supposed to come from independent branches of government,” Paul said. “So he thinks that if gets some lawyers together from the NSA, and they do a powerpoint presentation and tell him everything’s ok, that the NSA can police itself.”
He also accused the National Security Agency and White House of deliberately misleading Congress and the public about ongoing surveillance programs.
“They chose not to report the program, period,” Paul said. “They said they weren’t looking at any American data or any phone calls, and it turns out they’re looking at billions of phone calls every day.”
Paul, who has admitted to weighing a 2016 presidential bid, added that “the only way to find justice is to hear both sides.”
“There really needs to be a discussion of people who are more skeptical of the NSA in an open court, I think before the Supreme Court.”
The last time Amash brought the issue to a vote, the GOP leadership backed him. But no one expected the vote to be that close, and the GOP leadership does not want to get into a pissing match with Obama about which side is stronger on terrorism. Amash is likely to have considerably more difficulty in getting another vote.
That is, unless there has been a sea change in sentiment on both sides of the aisle, in which case a vote would be pro-forma. This is possible. The Washington Post revelations have unsettled many in Congress and it is reported that members are really hearing about NSA snooping from constituents during this recess.
What mood will they be in when they get back? Second time may be the charm for Mr. Amash.