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Posts in "NSA"
June 20, 2014
Defying the Obama administration, a bipartisan veto-proof House majority voted to rein in NSA surveillance of Americans late Thursday.
The 293-123 vote on the amendment by libertarian-minded Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., had majority support in both parties, although a number of leaders in both parties and chairmen opposed it. Some 135 Republicans and 158 Democrats backed it.
The amendment would prohibit the National Security Agency and the CIA from placing surveillance backdoors on commercial tech products and prohibit warrantless collection of Americans’ online data. Full story
May 22, 2014
Updated May 22, 1:38 p.m. | After a year of global criticism of the reach of American phone and data surveillance programs, the House approved new restrictions Thursday that critics dismissed as watered down.
The USA Freedom Act — backed by Republicans and Democrats and supported by President Barack Obama — would shift the collection and storage of phone metadata from the National Security Agency to private phone companies.
The measure passed 303-121, with critics on both sides of the aisle saying the bill would not do enough to curb potential abuse and provide legislative oversight of intelligence agencies.
Some privacy advocates pulled support for the measure this week, calling it hollow and riddled with loopholes.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who led the battle to end the NSA’s bulk metadata collection last summer and was a co-sponsor of the Freedom Act, posted a lengthy explanation why he was voting against the bill. Full story
April 24, 2014
Bipartisan House members are calling for an open debate when the House takes up legislation later this year dealing with a controversial National Security Agency intelligence gathering program.
Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., a longtime opponent of the NSA program, is gathering signatures on a letter that he plans to send to top House leaders asking that if a bill reauthorizing the program comes to the floor, it comes under an open rule, meaning any member can offer an amendment.
Holt told CQ Roll Call that because opposition to the NSA phone metadata program cuts across ideological, geographical and generational lines, a range of opinions should be debated, rather than just a few preselected amendments.
“What the government, acting through the NSA, has done is treat Americans as suspects first and citizens second,” he said of the program. Full story
April 8, 2014
During a Justice Department oversight hearing Tuesday, the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee accused Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. of committing perjury during his Jan. 29 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said he believed Clapper’s refusal to acknowledge whether warrantless searches of Americans’ communications had been conducted was perjurious after Clapper appeared to concede the point in a letter last week to Sen. Ron Wyden.
“Director Clapper’s perjury in my opinion has been covered extensively,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “In light of this, are you willing to discuss whether or not the Justice Department is investigating Director Clapper for his statements before the Senate?
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. refused to say whether the DOJ was conducting an investigation.
“I’m really not in a position to confirm whether the department is investigating any particular matter, but we are reviewing the material that you and other members of the committee have provided to us, and I can assure you that we will take any action that is appropriate,” Holder said. Full story
March 28, 2014
Within hours of Mike Rogers’ surprise retirement announcement, the hawks started circling to seize his Intelligence Committee gavel.
GOP Reps. Peter T. King of New York and Devin Nunes of California have expressed interest in the post. Sources say Reps. Jeff Miller of Florida and Mike Pompeo of Kansas are eyeing the gavel as well.
All those candidates would carry on Rogers’ hawkish stance as chairman of the committee, and all are fairly close to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, relationships that could be a major determining factor if Boehner continues his reign into the 114th Congress, as he has said he will.
Unlike most of the other House panels, the speaker singlehandedly appoints all members of the Intelligence Committee, including its chairman. Not surprisingly, Boehner has stacked the committee with allies, leaving no clear front-runner for the job.
Republicans and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are trying to assert jurisdiction over legislation revamping the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs — days after the bipartisan leadership of the Intelligence Committee outlined its own plan.
Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Robert C. Scott, D-Va., issued a cautionary joint statement about President Barack Obama’s latest proposal to end the government’s bulk collection of telephone records and make other changes to intelligence gathering.
The retirement announcement of Intelligence Chairman Mike J. Rogers Friday morning leaves a big hole for the House — and the Sunday talk show circuit — to fill.
Rogers, who will become a radio talk show host, had become in some ways the face of the intelligence community on television, racking up more Sunday show appearances than any other member of Congress each of the last two years. The telegenic former FBI agent repeatedly defended the National Security Agency against attacks following the avalanche of leaks by Edward Snowden, often taking a harder line than the White House.
Rogers had been a hawk against leaks — at one point suggesting the death penalty should be considered for Chelsea Manning for leaking documents to Wikileaks. Full story
March 26, 2014
Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday backed for the first time the end of the NSA’s collection of bulk data, expressing support for a bipartisan bill that would reform the way the government engages in domestic surveillance.
The Ohio Republican endorsed a bipartisan bill that would allow private companies to store the telephone metadata, rather than the government. The position is in line with that of President Barack Obama. The Administration unveiled their own proposals to reform the NSA’s surveillance on Tuesday.
Boehner said he expects the House will soon take up the bill, released on Tuesday by bipartisan members of the Intelligence Committee.
“I expect that part of this effort will include the end of the government holding on to bulk data,” Boehner said.
“I’ve long said these programs exist to save Americans’ lives, and they have. And while there are some valid privacy concerns, it would be irresponsible to end these programs before we have a credible alternative,” he said.
January 17, 2014
While President Barack Obama is proposing a series of changes to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, Speaker John A. Boehner gave the suggestions a frosty reception and isn’t convinced they are needed.
In a brief statement on Friday afternoon, the Ohio Republican said Obama “must not allow politics to cloud his judgment” in making tweaks to the systems in place to keep Americans safe.
“The House will review any legislative reforms proposed by the administration,” Boehner said, “but we will not erode the operational integrity of critical programs that have helped keep America safe.” Full story
December 30, 2013
This year, doing the business of the People’s House was, at best, a struggle. It’s well-known that 2013 was, legislatively, the least productive session in congressional history. Leaders strained to get to 218 — a majority in the 435-seat House (in case you had no idea where the blog name came from). And there were some pretty notable news stories as a result of all this congressional dysfunction.
But as painful as the year was for members, covering the House was a pleasure, one which we here at 218 only had the honor of doing for about half the year.
In that short time, 218 — or “Goppers,” as we were formerly known, which rhymes with “Whoppers,” for all you still wondering about that — had more than a few favorite stories.
Among the labors of love, there was a piece about the 10 Republicans who could one day be speaker, a story on an internal August playbook that went out to House Republicans telling them to profess how they were fighting Washington, and a piece (in response to his “calves the size of cantaloupes” comment) asking the question: How do you solve a problem like Steve King? Full story
November 14, 2013
Bad news for National Security Agency critics who want to use the annual Defense authorization bill to exact changes to the agency’s spying policies: Speaker John A. Boehner doesn’t think the defense measure is an appropriate vehicle for that debate.
“I don’t know that in the National Defense Authorization bill that that issue ought to be done,” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “It ought to be done on its own.”
Boehner teamed up earlier this year with Democratic leadership and the White House to narrowly defeat an amendment from Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., that would have ended the NSA blanket collection of telephone metadata. That amendment was attached to the defense appropriations bill in July after Amash and a band of libertarian-minded Republicans looked poised to vote down the rule governing floor debate for the Pentagon spending bill if they didn’t get a vote on the NSA amendment.
Even though the speaker rarely votes, Boehner voted against the Amash amendment.
On Thursday, the Ohio Republican once again defended the NSA, saying the agency “protects the American people, protects, frankly, our allies around the world.” Full story
November 11, 2013
While many members of Congress took the Veterans Day holiday as an opportunity to walk in a parade or speak at a veterans cemetery, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner was in Brussels, testifying before European Parliament about the Patriot Act.
Sensenbrenner, one of the chief authors of the Patriot Act, told the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs that Congress had extended broader powers to the National Security Agency and the executive branch more than a decade ago through the legislation — and the NSA had “abused” that trust.
“I firmly believe the Patriot Act saved lives by strengthening the ability of intelligence agencies to track and stop potential terrorists, but in the past few years, the NSA has weakened, misconstrued and ignored the civil liberty protections we drafted into the law,” Sensenbrenner testified. Full story
September 10, 2013
In a major shift from the hawkish foreign policy Congress rubber-stamped a decade ago, newer members of the House, weary of war and fresh from the town hall circuit, are more than three times as likely to oppose military action in Syria than their more senior colleagues.
House lawmakers first elected in 2010 or 2012 overwhelmingly oppose striking Syria, with 12 leaning toward supporting authorization and 103 lawmakers leaning or outrightly against it.
Of the lawmakers who have publicly stated a position on Syria, a recent House whip count from Firedoglake shows little support for intervention: 29 yes, 31 lean yes, 128 lean no, 105 no.
Lawmakers elected before 2010 are leaning against or opposed to action in Syria by a factor of 2.7 to 1. For members elected in the past two cycles, opposition to action in Syria is 8.5 to 1.
That’s a far cry from the Congress that overwhelmingly backed the Iraq War. And the newer members haven’t been following their leaders, whether it be Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or President Barack Obama.
“We’re reflective of a broader shift in public perception on foreign policy,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., told CQ Roll Call late last week.
“People have seen wars that have dragged on for more than a decade,” he said. “We’re tired of wars without end.”
It was 11 years ago, on Oct. 10, 2002, that 215 Republicans — all but eight — joined 85 Democrats to authorize the use of force in Iraq. At that time, according to a Pew Research Center poll, 62 percent of Americans supported military action to end Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Now, according to the latest CNN poll, more than 80 percent of the public says the Syrian government used chemical weapons, but just 39 percent of Americans support even a limited, no-boots-on-the-ground mission. And if you believe the lawmakers interviewed for this report, at least 90 percent of the constituents who have contacted them are against striking Syria.
Over the course of nearly a dozen interviews with freshman and sophomore lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats repeatedly expressed shifting convictions of the American public — and, correspondingly, a shift in the convictions of the lawmakers who were ushered into Congress to represent them.
The House is supposed to be the “people’s chamber,” where members are elected every two years to reflect the changing will of the public. But why, then, the differing levels of support among members who have spent less time in Washington?
The general answer from the junior lawmakers: They are more “constituent minded” than higher-ranking lawmakers. And the public does not want another war.
“They’re living in a D.C. echo chamber,” Amash said of his more senior colleagues. “If you’ve been here a longer amount of time, you’re not interacting with your constituents.”
Amash gave three reasons he thinks more senior members still support war: They don’t listen to their constituents, they are “tied to special interests,” and their voting record binds them to a foreign policy of yore.
Amash also theorized that longtime lawmakers (with “fatter bank accounts”) had stopped listening to constituents.
Amash said in 11 town halls he held last week — including one at a Burger King — “more than 95 percent” of the people he asked for a show of hands were against intervention in Syria.
And Amash has no qualms about following the wishes of his constituents on a matter as serious as war.
“Of all the issues out there, war is the one where you really need the public behind you, because you’re sending out their loved ones,” Amash said.
Indeed, sophomore Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., expressed a similar thought.
“It’s different when it comes to issues of war. It is not the president that goes to war, it’s not Congress; it’s the American people,” said Cicilline, who is leaning against authorization.
Freshman Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who first served in Congress from 1995 to 2001, said Congress has changed since his first stint.
“It’s not the same ‘go-along, get-along’ crowd,” Salmon said. ”A lot of the newer folks that have come in are very constitutionally minded.”
(Freshman Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., expressed nearly the same thought, saying, “You’ve got some really constitutionally minded people elected in the last two cycles.”)
Salmon said the public is “very, very cynical about any kind of war.” And he said the newer members are “a little more dubious” about following leadership.
“The longer you’re in the bubble, the more susceptible you are to the beltway jabber,” Salmon said.
Many members made the point that the difference between junior and senior members wasn’t exclusive to Syria.
“Some of it could be a shift in foreign policy, some of it could be that they represent their constituents more directly,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who was elected in 2012.
Massie cited three votes — on the Amash National Security Agency amendment, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act and the Marketplace Fairness Act (which has yet to receive a vote but has been whipped informally by Massie) — as evidence of his claim that more junior members of Congress are banding together, listening to their constituents and bucking leadership.
Using an extended sports metaphor, Massie said his junior colleagues “all want to be team players,” but leadership — otherwise known as the quarterback — is “calling the wrong plays, going the wrong direction.”
“It’s hard to tackle and block for a quarterback going in the wrong direction,” he said.
“Our leadership is asking us to vote in a way that can really come back to bite us in an election,” Massie said of the Syria resolution.
One sophomore lawmaker, who asked not to be identified as to speak more candidly about the shift, agreed that Syria was politically toxic. The lawmaker theorized that more junior colleagues opposed Syria more aggressively because they are more fearful of losing elections. Senior lawmakers tend to be more insulated from electoral considerations.
Indeed, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a veteran who supports intervention, worried that politics have crept into the decision-making process for members.
“Politics dissipates when you go overseas,” he said.
Kinzinger, who described himself as part of the “post-Iraq generation in Congress,” said that even though the American public seems to oppose intervention in Syria, “I wasn’t elected to not lead.”
Kinzinger suggested that outside groups, which he wouldn’t refer to by name, had had a hand in influencing newer members.
“Somehow Syria has become a purity vote,” he said, noting that there is a ”bit of an isolationist thought coming into our party.”
But freshman Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., suggested that the issue was not isolationism; the issue was Syria.
“While I’m a libertarian-leaning conservative, I’m not libertarian, I’m not an isolationist, I’m sure as hell not a dove,” Radel said. He went on to enumerate his concerns with Syria — concerns that echoed many members.
Radel did think, however, there was something unique about the freshman and sophomore members.
“A lot of us came from the private sector,” he said, “meaning we have not always done politics the way it has always been done.”
But while newer members may have a different, closer style of representation, Congress has long been about, as political scientist David Mayhew put it in his 1974 book, “the electoral connection.”
Another Florida lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, knows the lesson well. He was voted into Congress in 2008, voted out in 2010 and has returned for the 113th. He summed up a common thought.
“Recently elected members are well aware of the recent lessons of history. Maybe they,” he said, referring to his more senior colleagues, “haven’t learned it as intensely.”
Correction: 5:34 p.m.
An earlier version of this post misstated how long Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., has been in Congress. He is a sophomore.
August 21, 2013
Time for the next installment in CQ Roll Call’s coverage of the town halls of August — impeachment edition.
Since we last checked in, at least two members have raised the specter of impeaching President Barack Obama.
In speaking with constituents on Aug. 10 about Obama and lingering fears that he wasn’t born in the United States, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said that while, in the House, “you could probably get the votes” for impeachment, it probably wasn’t a good idea to go through with it, given it would be a non-starter in the Senate.
Then, on Tuesday, GOP freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan told constituents it would be a “dream come true” to impeach Obama — but at the moment he doesn’t have the evidence.
“Until we have evidence, you’re going to become a laughingstock if you’ve submitted the bill to impeach the president because number one, you’ve got to convince the press,” he explained. “There are some people out there no matter what Obama does he’s still the greatest president they’ve ever had. That’s what you’re fighting.”
But it doesn’t mean Bentivolio hasn’t explored his options.
“I went back to my office and I’ve had lawyers come in,” he continued. “These are lawyers, Ph.D.s in history, and I said, ‘Tell me how I can impeach the president of the United States.’”
Exactly what the lawmakers would impeach the president for wasn’t immediately apparent.
Elsewhere in Michigan, another Republican, Rep. Justin Amash, held a town hall event on Aug. 14. There, he accused House GOP leaders of preventing rank-and-file lawmakers from receiving pertinent information about National Security Agency surveillance activities, specifically the blanket collection of telephone records that has recently come to light following leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
“We would go to congressional briefings, and they’ll talk about the Patriot Act, for example, in pretty plain terms,” said Amash, according to local news reports. “But they won’t tell you about the uses of the Patriot Act.”
Amash, who has made targeting NSA practices he deems too invasive his most recent cause, also reportedly said that a recently declassified memo from 2011 shone light on the NSA activities currently under extra scrutiny, but it was at the time only made available to members of the House Intelligence Committee.
And the politics of Obamacare have also continued to rage at town hall meetings this month, specifically whether House Republicans should refuse to vote for any must-pass legislation — like a continuing resolution to fund the government past Sept. 30, when current appropriations expire — unless it includes language to strip funding from the 2010 health care law.
Another Texas Republican, Rep. Louie Gohmert, spoke at an event sponsored by a conservative local group called We The People-Longview, where he slammed his party’s leaders on Tuesday for not risking a government shutdown at the end of next month as leverage for defunding the Affordable Care Act — though Speaker John A. Boehner stated before Congress departed for the August recess that “no decisions have been made.”
“Our leadership is scared to death,” Gohmert said, according to reporting by the Longview News-Journal. “They think if we have a shutdown, or a big showdown, we may lose the majority … and they will lose their leadership positions.
“What does it say about Republicans if we’re not willing to stand up for what we know is best for the country?” he continued.
But in Illinois, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said that a government shutdown over the health care law would without a doubt jeopardize the Republican majority in 2014.
“Potentially there will be a collapse of will to keep the government shut down because soldiers are not getting paid, and all this other stuff’s happening, and we turn around and lose 10-20 seats in 2014,” Kinzinger reportedly told attendants of a meeting hosted by the Illinois chapter of Americans for Prosperity. “And whether we win the battle or not, we’ve lost the war because Nancy Pelosi’s speaker of the House.”
Though not in a town-hall-type forum, GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee also had an opportunity to confront her allies and her foes on Obamacare the other day when protests on both sides of the issue erupted near her Franklin office.
At one point, according to The Tennessean, Blackburn emerged from her office and, standing in between the two factions, addressed the group in measured tones:
“We all share the same goal of increasing access to healthcare, but we have a very different philosophy of how to achieve that goal. They would prefer a government-centered approach. I prefer an approach that puts the patient at the center and allows them to make the choices that are best for them and their family.”
The Tennessean report went on to note that Blackburn said she favored “market-based solutions” over government-mandated options, which in turn sparked the pro-Obamacare supporters to break out into a chant.
“It’s the law, it’s the law,” they cried — and one of them handed her a copy of said law.
July 24, 2013
Updated 8:17 p.m. | The White House and Republican and Democratic leadership marshaled their forces Wednesday to narrowly defeat an attempt by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., to defund the National Security Agency’s blanket collection of telephone records, but not before a heated floor debate pitting civil liberties against national security.
Amash faced extraordinary odds: leadership on both sides of the aisle registered opposition to the amendment; former attorneys general and executive branch officials penned a letter opposing the measure; outside groups such as the Heritage Foundation came out against it; newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, wrote op-eds rebuffing it; and the White House issued a rare statement of opposition against a House amendment.
The House killed the proposal, 205-217.
But the vote was much closer than the NSA, the White House or leadership wanted. The Amash amendment got 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats to go on record against the NSA surveillance program. A majority of Democrats effectively repudiated President Barack Obama’s handling of the program exposed by leaker Edward Snowden.
Snowden, of course, had called for just such a public debate and votes on the program when he revealed himself as the NSA leaker.
The vote made for strange bedfellows. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., all voted against the amendment. Pelosi spoke against the Amash’s amendment at a behind-closed-doors Caucus meeting Wednesday, according to a source in the room.
But it was Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, a fellow Michigan Republican, who led the charge against the proposal as a matter of life and death.
He referenced 9/11 and said that, after the 2001 terrorist attack, Americans asked “what if” there were a way we could have prevented the attack.
“What if we had caught it?” Rogers asked. “The good news it’s not theoretical. Fifty-four times this program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks here and in Europe, saving real lives. This isn’t a game. This is real.”
Rogers said the amendment would have returned the nation to where it was on “Sept. 10.”
At one point, Rogers seemed to take a personal dig at Amash, who has enjoyed a flood of social media support during his NSA battle. Rogers asked his House colleagues, “Are we so small that we can only look at our Facebook likes in this chamber?”
Rogers said he would use an upcoming intelligence authorization bill “to work to find additional privacy protections with this program that has no emails, no phone calls, no names and no addresses. ”
Amash rallied a bipartisan band of backers that stretched across the conservative-liberal divide — from former Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to ranking Judiciary Democrat John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.
They cast his amendment as a referendum on civil liberties.
“We are here today for a very simple reason,” Amash said, “to defend the Fourth Amendment, to defend the privacy of each and every American.”
“It’s a question of balancing privacy and security,” said Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. “It’s a question of who will do the balancing. Right now, the balancing is being done by people we do not know, people we do not elect.”
Conyers, the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the amendment, told reporters after the vote that pressure on members to vote against Amash was “heavy.”
He said Democratic leadership may not have been engaging in a formal whip operation, but “there was one in existence” against it.
“They were very worried,” said Conyers, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. “And the fact that they won this narrowly means they still are worried because this thing isn’t over yet. This is just the beginning.”
Emma Dumain and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.