The Amash Amendment to end the NSA surveillance program was defeated 205-217 this week, but, even in losing, the measure sparked the beginning of what is likely to be a long debate over the controversial program.
The bill was crafted by Republican Congressman Justin Amash, one that appeared unlikely to even come to the House floor. But Amash won the right for a vote, and the measure lost by a narrow margin as it drew bipartisan support.
The Amash amendment would have ended the “mass surveillance of Americans” while permitting the government to acquire business records and other “tangible things” actually related to counterterrorism efforts. It also would have instituted more robust judicial oversight of the NSA’s surveillance, requiring the agency to go through a court to show reasonable grounds for collecting information.
“NSA can continue to collect telephone metadata without a warrant and without probable cause that a crime or other statutory violation has been committed,” a fact sheet published by Rep. Amash read. “The amendment simply requires that there be a reasonable connection between the documents sought and the person under investigation.”
Even in defeat, the Amash Amendment scored an important victory. Amash has a reputation as a defiant Republican, willing to buck party leadership, and he had to fight to bring the controversial amendment forward.
But House Majority Leader John Boehner allowed the amendment to come to a vote, sparking the first test of lawmakers’ support for the NSA program exposed by Edward Snowden.
The Amash Amendment nearly won passage despite a strong lobbying effort from the White House and key intelligence figures to support the spying program. And the narrow defeat seems to have emboldened NSA opponents and civil libertarian groups, who have vowed to continue the fight.
“Today’s vote shows that the tide is turning, that the American people, when they are aware of these programs, overwhelmingly reject them, and the expiration date on these programs is coming due,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a group that organized an online push to support the amendment.
So while the Amash Amendment may have lost, it is sparked what looks to be a long fight to end the NSA program.