Inside the House GOP’s NSA War

by Jonathan Strong

Working frantically to kill Representative Justin Amash’s NSA amendment, General Keith Alexander, the spy agency’s chief, opened his calls to lawmakers’ cell phones with a joke – yes, I already had your number.

That detail and many more are in my deep dive into the how the vote came to be over at the home page.

Amash’s amendment would have required the NSA to limit its collection of phone records and other “tangible things” to only those individuals under a Patriot Act investigation. Practically speaking, that would instantly halt the government’s practice of collecting the phone logs of every American.

Behind the scenes, GOP leadership in the House was deeply opposed to bringing the proposal – offered as an amendment to the DOD appropriations bill – to the floor and was planning to kill it in the Rules Committee that decides which amendments get voted on.

But minutes before the final decision was rendered, after an animated conversation with Amash on the House floor, Speaker John Boehner changed course, deciding to allow a vote on the amendment after all. It was a peculiar decision: not only was Boehner deeply opposed to the amendment, Amash has been something of a thorn in his side over the past two years.

Amash’s amendment, and his willingness to flout the norms of Congress to get it to the floor, prompted considerable gnashing of teeth on the part of top GOP officials and their aides. That anger was reflected in a Politico story that came out in the hours after the vote that quoted “several” Republicans calling Amash a stubborn “child.”

An important part of the criticism leveled at Amash was that his amendment violated House rules and only because GOP leadership held his hand through the drafting process was it ever able to come to the floor.

For my story I reviewed emails and other documents detailing the back-and-forth and interviewed over a dozen people close to the situation, and what emerged was a different picture.

Rules Committee aides did provide considerable assistance to Amash, but one of the reasons the assistance was needed was because others, including GOP leadership, were lobbying the House parliamentarian’s office to rule the amendment “out of order.” It was a super inside baseball tactic that left few fingerprints, but its beyond clear that many procedural roadblocks were thrown up to block the amendment.  

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