Amash Amendment to defund NSA surveillance fails narrowly

In a closely watched vote that ended within the past hour, the US House of Representatives narrowly rejected Rep. Justin Amash's (R-MI) amendment (205-217) to defund activities pertaining to the NSA's controversial blanket collection of telephone records under the 'Patriot' Act.  This vote follows a set of emergency hearings requested by NSA Director General Keith Alexander yesterday as a last-ditch effort to win continued Congressional support for these programs.

As expected, during the brief House debates, the usual national security bromides, fearful predictions, and a requisite invocation of "9/11" were launched against the amendment by Congressional supporters of NSA's various surveillance programs.  And, of course, mention of Edward Snowden.

Some memorable moments: Congressman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), after railing against the "false narrative" being made about the NSA surveillance program in the national dialogue, proceeded to describe "metadata" as something less detailed (or dangerous) than a "local phone book" in voicing her support of it.  House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) implored members to ignore "Facebook Likes" (which one interprets as 'public opinion') and vote to "protect the country" -- while also pinkie-swearing to consider privacy issues pertaining to NSA surveillance activities when his committee debates 2014 intelligence community funding in the fall. Rep Tom Cotton (R-AK) even suggested that 'metadata' is akin to an Excel spreadsheet, while then claiming the surveillance program is necessary because the United States is "at war" -- which is surprising, because when did Congress declare one?

By contrast, the primary author of the 2001 USA 'Patriot' Act (through which NSA derives its authority to conduct some of its controversial surveillance activities) Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) vehemently supported the Amash amendment, saying the law's provisions needed to be curtailed. However, his thoughts were ignored, as were Rep. Zoe Lofgren's (D-CA) concerns that the executive branch's oversight report to Congress about activities under Section 215 of the 'Patriot' Act this year was only "eight sentences."

Going into the vote, I suspected the Amash amendment would fail. Why? Moments before the Amash amendment was graciously afforded a 2-minute vote[1], a competing status-quo amendment offered by HPSCI member Mike Pompeo (R-KN) was given a typical 15-minute vote and passed with an overwhelming bipartisan tally of 409-12.  However, by passing the Pompeo amendment, Members of Congress were given the political 'cover' to claim they voted on something "in response" to public concerns about the NSA's surveillance programs -- while not actually addressing the underlying issues themselves. (During the debate, @EFFLive referred to it as the 'decoy amendment.') 

EDIT #1:  Roll call vote tally by name on the Amash Amendment consideration.  Interestingly, there were 12 votes needed for passage.....and there were 12 "no votes" -- 6 Republican, 6 Democrat. Coincidence?

[1]  Congress routinely schedules votes of varying durations.  A "15-minute" or "5-minute" vote is the norm.  However, to garner enough support to pass a controversial bill, the majority may hold a vote open for hours if necessary. By contrast, it may compress the duration of a voting window to procedurally challenge those seeking to vote in favour of controversial items it disagrees with. That's a classic Congressional technique.

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