WASHINGTON – After furious lobbying by the Obama administration and Republican leaders, the House of Representatives on Wednesday narrowly defeated an amendment that would have curtailed the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of U.S. phone calling records revealed recently by Edward Snowden.
But the breadth of support in both parties for the amendment -- which lost, 217 to 205 -- underscored the extent of public disquiet with the notion that the NSA is collecting information on nearly every phone call made by nearly every American. Backers of the measure were the ultimate in strange bedfellows, an oil-and-water mixture of deeply conservative tea party Republicans and some of the chamber’s most liberal Democrats.
A majority of Democrats bucked President Obama and voted in favor of the amendment. A change of just six votes would have passed the measure.
During the debate before the vote, few lawmakers stood to defend NSA’s surveillance programs, as speaker after speaker trounced them.
“The government has gone too far in the name of national security,” said Ted Poe (R-Texas).
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) ridiculed the notion that the records of every American could each meet the standard, in Section 215 of the Patriot Act, allowing the government to obtain business records “relevant to an investigation.”
Proposed by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the amendment would have required the government to identify a person under investigation before it is able to collect records of calls made to or from that person. Currently, the government obtains orders from a secret intelligence court requiring telecommunications providers to turn over to the NSA calling records on nearly every American.
Officials say they need all the records to be able to identify U.S. residents unknown to the intelligence community who may be working with foreign terrorists.