Amash Anticipates More Support, Several NSA Amendments After August Recess

Congressmen could, in theory, introduce amendments against NSA surveillance to several bills.

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White House press secretary Jay Carney scowls during his daily news briefing at the White House, Aug. 8, 2013. At the briefing Carney answered questions about NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Russia.
White House press secretary Jay Carney scowls during his daily news briefing at the White House, Aug. 8, 2013. At the briefing Carney answered questions about NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Russia.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., says some colleagues regret not voting in favor of his proposal to restrict the National Security Agency's dragnet collection of phone records.

"Congressman Amash has had personal conversations with a number of members since the vote on the Amash amendment last month," spokesman Will Adams told U.S. News. "A number of them, particularly since going back home for the August recess, have a new perspective on the issue."

Adams declined to identify the members, but said some were wooed by "a combination of listening to constituents at town halls and the continued leaks of information that undermines the argument that Congress has effective oversight."

A widely read Washington Post report revealed last week that the NSA often violates its own privacy rules. An internal NSA audit from May 2012, the Post reported, found 2,776 violations of privacy rules during the preceding 12 months at the NSA's Fort Meade, Md., headquarters. One violation reportedly involved 3,032 phone record files. In another instance NSA staffers reportedly decided they "need not report the unintended surveillance."

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In addition to possibly spurring more support for anti-surveillance legislation, some news reports have broadened the options being considered by Amash and other members seeking out germane opportunities to debate the NSA programs.

Amash could, in theory, introduce amendments against NSA surveillance to several bills "because of news reports that the NSA is sharing this information with a number of other agencies," Adams said.

Reuters reported Aug. 5 that the NSA provides the Drug Enforcement Administration with data intercepts to help initiate drug investigations. The DEA then constructs alternate investigative records to keep the probes' true origin obscured from defendants, their attorneys and the public.

"I think that there will be a number of amendments" after the August recess, Adams said, "[but] I don't think we will attach an amendment to every possible bill that's arguably related to the NSA."

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The most obvious target is the Intelligence Authorization Act, which could come up for a vote this fall. Another bill, which would fund the Justice Department's operations for the next fiscal year, is also being considered.

Amash's first bid to stop the bulk collection of phone records – via an amendment to Defense Appropriations Bill - failed by a mere 12 votes on July 24.

A dozen members missed the vote, but their participation alone would not have changed the outcome.

Three congressmen, Reps. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J., would have likely voted to restrict the phone record collection. Three others, Reps. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., would have voted no.

U.S. News reached out for comment to the spokespersons for Reps. Howard Coble, R-N.C., Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif., Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., John Campbell, R-Calif., Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and Aaron Schock, R-Ill., all members who were not present for the July amendment vote, but those messages were not yet returned.

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Greg Beswick, a spokesman for Beatty, explained that she had intended to vote no, but was feeling ill and arrived slightly too late.

Rokita was caring for a sick child. His spokesman, Zach Zagar, told U.S. News he would have been a "likely yes," despite Indiana's eight other congressmen voting no.

Horsford was recovering from heart surgery. Herrera Beutler was on maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter, a child she considers a "miracle baby" after surviving an extremely difficult pregnancy.

Barletta was unable to vote because of a "family emergency," his chief of staff, Andrea Waldock, told U.S. News. He would have voted no because the amendment would "disarm ourselves of an effective weapon," she said.

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One of Amash's four named co-sponsors on the initial attempt, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., told U.S. News last week that he hadn't spoken with any colleague who had changed their mind. All of his state's congressmen voted in favor, he noted, and the few other representatives he'd spoken with were "on our side."

In light of recent revelations, however, even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who reportedly whipped enough Democratic votes last month to spare the NSA's phone surveillance program, seems to have changed her tone. Although she did not commit to supporting any new restrictions on NSA surveillance, Pelosi described the revelations from the Post as "extremely disturbing" in a Friday statement.

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