House narrowly rejects effort to halt NSA program
This handout image provided by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum shows a 1964 A4-H Universal helmet, showing in the x-ray ball bearings in the neck ring that allowed the helmet to move right and left without restriction, part of a new art exhibit at the museum entitled: "Suited for Space,"opening Friday that highlights the creativity behind the suits that allowed humans to explore the moon and aspire to fly further from Earth. (AP Photo/Mark Avino, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)
FILE - This June 6, 2013 file photo shows the sign outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. The authority of the National Security Agency to collect phone records of millions of Americans sharply divided members of Congress on Tuesday as the House pressed ahead on legislation to fund the nation's military. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. walks through a basement tunnel to the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, for the vote on his amendment to the Defense spending bill that would cut funding to the National Security Agency's phone surveillance program. The White House and congressional backers of the NSA's electronic surveillance program are warning that ending the massive collection of phone records from millions of Americans would put the nation at risk from another terrorist attack. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. returns to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, after a meeting with constituents, before the vote on the Defense spending bill in the House containing his amendment to cut funding to the National Security Agency's program that collects phone records. The White House and congressional backers of the NSA's electronic surveillance program are warning that ending the massive collection of phone records from millions of Americans would put the nation at risk from another terrorist attack. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The House narrowly rejected a challenge to the National Security Agency’s secret collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records last night after a fierce debate pitting privacy rights against the government’s efforts to thwart terrorism.
The vote was 217-205 on an issue that created unusual political coalitions in Washington, with libertarian-leaning conservatives and liberal Democrats pressing for the change against the Obama administration, the Republican establishment and Congress’s national security experts.
The showdown vote marked the first chance for lawmakers to take a stand on the secret surveillance program since former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents last month that spelled out the monumental scope of the government’s activities.
It is unlikely to be the final word on government intrusion to defend the nation and Americans’ civil liberties.
“Have 12 years gone by and our memories faded so badly that we forgot what happened on Sept. 11?” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the Intelligence committee, said in pleading with his colleagues to back the program during House debate.
Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, chief sponsor of the repeal effort, said his aim was to end the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ phone records.
His measure, offered as an addition to a $598.3 billion defense spending bill for 2014, would have canceled the statutory authority for the NSA program, ending the agency’s ability to collect phone records and metadata under the USA Patriot Act unless it identified an individual under investigation.
The House later voted to pass the overall defense bill, 315-109.
Amash told the House that his effort was to defend the Constitution and “defend the privacy of every American.”
The unusual political coalitions were on full display during a brief House debate.
“Let us not deal in false narratives. Let’s deal in facts that will keep Americans safe,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican and a member of the Intelligence committee who implored her colleagues to back a program that she said was vital in combatting terrorism.
But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee who helped write the Patriot Act, insisted “the time has come” to stop the collection of phone records.