Libertarian-leaning Republicans are holding up a defense appropriations bill until they get amendments through that will block funding for any military operations in either Syria or Egypt and for dragnet-style NSA surveillance.
Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) is leading a group of fellow congressmen to amend the impending Defense Appropriations bill to include language “that would ban the NSA from collecting information from people who aren’t under investigation.”
GOP leadership keeps stalling, showing the push is putting Speaker John Boehner in a bind. The House Rules Committee, which will decide whether the amendment gets a vote on the floor, delayed its proceedings yesterday for the second time this week. The underlying bill, the Department of Defense Appropriations bill, has also been expected on the floor for the past several weeks but keeps getting pushed back.
The catch is, if the Rules Committee doesn’t allow a vote on the amendment, Amash and a coalition of Republicans and Democrats probably have the votes to bring the whole bill down. To do so, they could vote against the “rule,” which governs debate for the bill. Those are typically party-line votes, so only a few Republicans would need to join the Democrats to defeat it.
Joining with Amash are conservative Republican representatives Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Thomas Massie of Kentucky as well as liberal Democratic representatives Jared Polis of Colorado and John Conyers of Michigan. Conyers is the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
Amash says the amendment could get widespread support in a roll call vote. “The coalition is much broader than just libertarian-leaning conservatives and liberals. If you talk to members from across the political spectrum you’ll find widespread disapproval of what the NSA is doing,” he says, adding “our effort is not aimed at overseas spying operations that are legitimate and constitutional.” It’s the “collection of all Americans’ phone records here in the United States” that he opposes.
Amash has been taking to Twitter to gum up support for the amendment:
Without Amash-Conyers-Massie-Mulvaney-Polis Amendment, DoD Approps will continue to fund unconstitutional #NSA theft of your personal data.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) July 22, 2013
Amash isn’t the only Republican sticking his neck out in a more libertarian direction on national security issues. His colleague Thomas Massie (R-KY) has introduced two amendments to the bill, according to Matt Fuller at Roll Call: “one that would defund military operations in Syria and one that would defund military operations in Egypt.”
And then there’s Utah’s Mike Lee over in the Senate, who “has voted against extending the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping,” writes Jim Antle. “He has also led the charge against the National Defense Authorization Act’s indefinite detention provision and supported accelerated troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.”
These GOPers are sometimes called Tea Party Republicans, but that name is thankfully going by the wayside. They explicitly align themselves with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has been similarly unafraid to defy hawkish party conventions on national security.
Many purists accurately note that these libertarian-leaning congressmen are not completely satisfying on every issue. But their legislative defiance, so to speak, is miles away from where we were in the Bush years with the entire GOP toeing the line and frightened Democrats too scared to constructively dissent.
Glenn Greenwald, who continues to uncover the leaks from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, has noted the encouraging reactions in Congress of late. “The fact that you now see members of both political parties increasingly angry over the fact that they were misled and lied to by top-level Obama administration officials, that the laws that they enacted in the wake of 9/11 — as broad as they were — are being incredibly distorted by secret legal interpretations approved by secret courts, really indicates exactly that Snowden’s motives to come forward with these revelations, at the expense of his liberty and even his life, were valid and compelling,” he said. “If you think about whistleblowing in terms of people who expose things the government is hiding that they shouldn’t be, in order to bring about reform, I think what you’re seeing is the fruits of classic whistleblowing.”