The most publicized amendment of the defense appropriations amendment voting process was certainly the Amash-Conyers "Defund the NSA" amendment, which would have severely curbed the NSA's blanket surveillance powers. The Republican leadership tried to prevent the bill from even getting to a vote. The White House vehemently opposed it and sent NSA Director Keith Alexander to the Hill to have closed, separate meetings with each party to fear monger against the bill and dissuade members of Congress from voting for it. The party leadership on both sides of the aisle were furiously whipping against it.
Unfortunately, it failed 205 to 217. However, it surpassed many people's expectations; the slim margin of defeat sent a powerful message, and the bill's backers in and out of Congress are not going to let the issue die easily. 111 Democrats (a majority) and 94 Republicans voted for it. 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against it.
Who deserves the credit--or, more aptly, the blame--for the defeat of this bill?
In an article written after consulting with sources on the Hill ("How Nancy Pelosi Saved the NSA Surveillance Program", Foreign Policy national security reporter John Hudson deems Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as the architect of the bill's defeat.
Hudson details the anti-anti-surveillance lobbying efforts:
Ahead of the razor-thin 205-217 vote, which would have severely limited the NSA's ability to collect data on Americans' telephone records if passed, Pelosi privately and aggressively lobbied wayward Democrats to torpedo the amendment, a Democratic committee aid with knowledge of the deliberations tells The Cable.He continues,
"Pelosi had meetings and made a plea to vote against the amendment and that had a much bigger effect on swing Democratic votes against the amendment than anything Alexander had to say," said the source, keeping in mind concerted White House efforts to influence Congress by Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. "Had Pelosi not been as forceful as she had been, it's unlikely there would've been more Democrats for the amendment."
"Pelosi had a big effect on more middle-of-the road hawkish Democrats who didn't want to be identified with a bunch of lefties [voting for the amendment]," said the aide. "As for the Alexander briefings: Did they hurt? No, but that was not the central force, at least among House Democrats. Nancy Pelosi's political power far outshines that of Keith Alexander's."Nancy Pelosi voted against the extension of the PATRIOT Act extensions in 2005 and again in 2011. Neither was a close vote, so she did not have to worry about influencing ultimate passage. Back in 2005, she called the PATRIOT Act a "massive invasion of privacy." However, recently, she has been willing to be on the record defending it. Back at Netroots Nation last month, Pelosi defended the NSA and its surveillance activities--to the obvious displeasure of the progressive audience.
As a typical politician, Pelosi has tried to argue--disingenuously--that her vote against the Amash-Conyers amendment was not a statement of approval for the NSA's blanket surveillance powers. During a press conference this morning, she said, "Well, I didn't vote for the PATRIOT Act the last time it was up. I don't want anybody to misunderstand a vote against the Amash resolution yesterday."
And to feign concern and curb liberal backlash, she organized a letter from opponents and supporters of the bill to show how much they all cared about civil liberties:
"Dear Mr. President," reads the letter. "Although the amendment was defeated 205-217, it is clear that concerns remain about the continued implementation of the program in its current form. Although some of us voted for and others against the amendment, we all agree that there are lingering questions and concerns about the current 215 collection program."However, letters do not matter nearly as much as votes. And Nancy Pelosi's whipping is probably responsible for the change of heart from the 17 Democrats who opposed the extension of the PATRIOT Act in 2011 but voted against Amash-Conyers yesterday:
Rob Andrews (NJ-01)If half of those Democrats had kept to past principles, the amendment would have passed.
Eliot Engel (NY-16)
Al Green (TX-09)
Luis Gutiérrez (IL-04)
Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01)
Brian Higgins (NY-26)
Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15)
Steve Israel (NY-03)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Eddie Johnson (TX-30)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Nancy Pelosi (CA-12)
Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)
Votes are what count. Votes, not mere letters, involve true displays of principle and of conscience.