(UPDATED) Amash (R-MI) & Conyers (D-MI) offer amendment to curtail NSA, NSA against it, vote soon

UPDATE: The vote was today. Amash-Conyers lost 205-212. This is excellent news; there’s a huge bipartisan inside game we can build in. Names when available. Be optimistic and stay tuned.

This is a Quick Hits follow-up to the NSA spying story, and the start of Congressional pushback. Republican House member Justin Amash (MI-03) and Democrat John Conyers (MI-13) have jointly authored an amendment to the Pentagon spending bill that will make it to the House floor for a vote, perhaps as early as today.

The details, from Ryan Grim and Matt Sledge at the Huffington Post (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

NSA’s Keith Alexander Calls Emergency Private Briefing To Lobby Against Justin Amash Amendment Curtailing Its Power

The National Security Agency called for a “top secret” meeting with members of the House on Tuesday to lobby against the first House amendment to challenge the agency’s authority to cull broad swaths of communications data, according to an invitation circulated in Congress.

The amendment was authored by Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican from Michigan, and cosponsored by former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and liberal Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers. The House ruled the amendment in order on Monday, and it is expected to get a vote sometime this week. NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander scheduled a last-minute, members-only briefing in response to the amendment, according to an invitation distributed to members of Congress this morning and forwarded to HuffPost. …

NSA-signThe Amash amendment would put the House on record when it comes to NSA snooping. The measure, which would be attached to the Pentagon’s spending bill, “ends authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act” and “bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.”

The section of the Patriot Act that Amash is targeting was the subject of the first piece in The Guardian about NSA leaker Edward Snowden‘s revelations. A secret intelligence court has interpreted the law to allow the NSA to collect hundreds of millions of records on every American phone call under the theory that such records might be useful in future terrorism investigations.

Gen. Keith Alexander is a big deal, by the way. I’m hearing he’s one of the most powerful unelected people in government. Keep your eye on his name.

I understand there’s also a fake-NSA-reform counter-amendment offered by Rep. Rich Nugent (FL-11), a Republican, that looks like reform but isn’t — the goal being to give ground cover to members who want to look like something they’re not. Watch the vote on the Nugent amendment as well if you watch the session on CSPAN. The game and the trickery are afoot and Nugent amendment voters are tricksters.

UPDATE: For a nice story on how this Amash-Conyers amendment got to the floor over Boehner’s resistance, and also why Obama calls it just the “Amash amendment,” read this about the maneuver called the Amendment Hack by David Sirota at Salon. It’s fascinating.

What to do

If you want to make a difference, lobby your member. House member phone numbers are at the link. Please use it. And if there’s an extra phone call in your future, you might check out the names in this list. They’re lobby-able as well. So far we’re on the upswing and the tide is with us. Might as well use it.

Me, I’m scoring this vote, and I’ll publish the list of heroes and villains as soon as I have it.

You, please do lobby. I’ll tell you why tomorrow, but for now, just know it’s not useless to act. You won’t always win, but please, do act. Rush Holt’s bill repealing the Patriot Act is also coming; you can join those who are causing a scene, and feel very good about it at the same time. After all, the NSA already knows what you think about them, so there’s nothing to lose, is there.

And thanks!


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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