Following a surprisingly close vote on Capitol Hill Wednesday evening, the libertarian congressman who tried to stop the National Security Agency’s blanketing collection of domestic phone records vowed to further his fight against NSA surveillance.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) was unsuccessful with his attempt to tack an amendment on to an upcoming Pentagon appropriations bill Wednesday night that would have barred the NSA from using a PATRIOT Act provision to collect the phone records of all Americans. But despite being relatively new to DC politics, the 33-year-old lawmaker garnered support from both sides of the aisle before and after an evening of heated testimony that ended with a 205-217 vote that shut-down his amendment, co-sponsored by colleague Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan).
Amash opened the evening’s argument by telling other members of Congress, “We are here to answer one question for the people we represent: do we oppose the suspicionless collection of American’s phone records?” He concluded around half-an-hour of intense arguments by asking the same question of his colleagues, then watching his attempt to overhaul the NSA narrowly be wiped away.
But although Amash and his fellow pro-privacy advocates suffered defeat this week, many of those who supported the amendment saw the loss as just the first step in a much broader fight.
“We came close (205-217). If just 7 Reps had switched their votes, we would have succeeded. Thank YOU for making a difference. We fight on,” Amash tweeted Wednesday evening.
Conyers, Amash’s 84-year-old congressional counterpart from the left, told the Associated Press after the vote that “This discussion is going to be examined continually … as long as we have this many members in the House of Representatives that are saying it’s OK to collect all records you want just as long as you make sure you don’t let it go anywhere else.'”
“That is the beginning of the wrong direction in a democratic society,” said Conyers.
In the wake of Wednesday’s vote, a number of lawmakers issued statements saying why they voted for the Amash amendment despite being berated with warnings from the likes of the NSA and even the White House to cast their ballot against the anti-surveillance bill. Gen. Keith Alexander, the chief of the NSA , held emergency meetings on the Hill Tuesday night to lobby against the Amash amendment; White House press secretary Jay Carney said that same evening that “We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.”
“When’s the last time a president put out an emergency statement against an amendment?” Amash responded the next morning on Twitter. “The Washington elites fear liberty. They fear you.”
Following the vote, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) said, “While some in Congress desperately want to continue the NSA’s domestic spying, I vigorously defended the Fourth Amendment by voting to limit the NSA’s ability to use taxpayer money to spy on its own citizens.”
“We must also remain eternally vigilant in our defense of liberty and I intend to continue doing so,” added Gosar.
“It’s time to end the surveillance state and make NSA focus on those who actually pose a terrorist threat,” added Rep. Diane Black (R-Tennessee), another support of the Amash amendment.
“This debate needs to continue for the sake of the Constitution,” tweeted Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas). “[T]his is a debate worth continuing,” wrote Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado).
But even after receiving an unexpected amount of support that could have likely overcome the opposition without the backing of the executive branch, Amash and company walked away from the capitol Wednesday night knowing their fight won’t end anytime soon.
“Ask the American people if the House did the right thing,” Amash told reporters.
Moments after the amendment lost Wednesday night, Rep. Rush Hold (NJ) announced he was introducing the “Surveillance State Repeal Act,” legislation he said would repeal the PATRIOT Act and other “over-broad surveillance law.”
“As we now know, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been collecting the personal communications of literally millions of innocent Americans for no legitimate reason,” Holt said in a press release. “Instead of using these powers to zero in on the tiny number of real terrorist threats we face, the executive branch turned these surveillance powers against the American people as a whole. My legislation would put a stop to that right now.”