Amash amendment roll call vote, based on GovTrack's ideology scores
Wednesday's vote on the Amash amendment was one of the most unusual votes taken in the House in a long time. The proposal, to end the National Security Agency's authority to collect phone records and other records indiscriminately, failed by a very narrow 205-217 margin
. Usually, when a vote is that close, it means the leadership of both parties whipped the votes hard and the breakdown is almost purely along party lines. However, the NSA vote worked nothing like that: Democrats narrowly voted to limit the NSA's authority, 111-83, while Republicans narrowly voted against it, 94-134. It was one of those rare votes that exposes that there are other fissures at work in the House than the pure D/R divide; if anything, it reveals where the establishment/anti-establishment divide falls within each party.
(Before we go further, if you're wondering "who is this heroic Amash person, and where can I donate to him?" take a few moments to learn more about him. Justin Amash, a sophomore Republican from the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area is one of the most conservative members of the House, maybe the closest thing to a standard-bearer for the selectively libertarian Paulist movement in the House since the retirement of Ron Paul himself. Amash is one of those people who believes that the government should do nothing. A la the proverbial stopped clock that's right twice a day, that may lead to some common cause with those on the left in cases of intrusive overreach, but his desire to defang the NSA is merely one signpost on an ideological route that, for him, has a target destination of a survival-of-the-fittest hellscape.)
While it's hard to conclusively discern any sort of pattern in the votes, one that leaps out right away is that most of the leadership in both parties voted "no" on the bills, while the further away from leadership one is, the likelier a member was to vote "aye." On the Dem side, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Steve Israel, for instance, were all "no" votes; on the GOP side, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Greg Walden, Jim Lankford, and Virginia Foxx were all "no" votes, along with ex-leaders like Pete Sessions, and Tom Cole. (A few of the less prominent leadership members, however, were "aye" votes, especially on the Dem side, including Jim Clyburn, Xavier Becerra, and Joseph Crowley; on the Republican side, the highest-ranking "aye" vote was Cathy McMorris Rodgers.)
Contrast that with the Republicans who have been the biggest thorns in Boehner's side: Down the line, they voted "aye." That includes all 10 Republicans who, at the start of the term, we declared Boehner's "10 worst frenemies" (mostly because of their votes against him for speaker): Justin Amash himself, as well as Jim Bridenstine, Paul Broun, Louis Gohmert, Tim Huelskamp, Walter Jones, Tom Massie, Steve Pearce, Ted Yoho and Steve Stockman. Other "ayes" included Raul Labrador, who also was involved in the fizzled anti-Boehner coup at the start of the term, David Schweikert, one of the other members purged off of plum committees by Boehner, and Kerry Bentivolio, another quasi-Paulist who seems to have wandered into the House by accident.
Much more analysis over the flip ...
Nevertheless, some of the House GOP's top-tier whackjobs still voted "no." Most prominently, that includes Michele Bachmann, Steve King, Phil Gingrey and Trent Franks as well as the aforementioned Foxx (who somehow has managed to rise recently to #6 in the GOP House hierarchy). These are slightly different beasts, though: These are folks who tend to get lumped in with the tea party because of their sheer loudness, but who really aren't coming from the same ideological place (let's call it half-assed-libertarianism) as the "frenemies" squad. Instead, they tend to be more motivated by social conservatism or xenophobia, stances that aren't necessarily at odds with intrusive data collection and scrutiny. Arkansas freshman Tom Cotton was another prominent "no" vote; he was elected with "tea party" written all over him, but seems to have thrown his lot in with the national security types, to the extent that he's already considered the neo-cons' biggest little rising star in the House (and possibly, soon, Senate).
In the Democratic caucus, there's also a similar insider/outsider dynamic at work; most of the members of the Progressive Caucus, on the Dems' left flank, voted "aye," while the more moderate members, especially those in swingy districts who may face tough races next year, tended to vote "no." That provides a notable difference with the Republicans: the members least likely to vote for the party's leader (like Mike McIntyre, Jim Matheson, Jim Cooper, Dan Lipinski, and John Barrow, who all voted for someone other than Nancy Pelosi for speaker) were "no" votes, rather than "ayes" like with the Republicans. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions on the Dem side too; Jan Schakowsky and Louise Slaughter (progressives who are still tight with leadership) were "no" votes, while a number of Dems with hawkish (Brad Sherman) or technocratic (Suzan DelBene) reputations were nevertheless "aye" votes.
Franks amendment roll call vote, based on GovTrack's ideology scores
So, if pushed to describe a trend, you can start to see a pattern where the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus and most conservative members of the Republican caucus were the ones to vote "aye" on the NSA bill, while the more centrist and/or establishment members of the caucuses were likelier to vote "no." You can see that in the above graphic from GovTrack, which arranges the votes left to right according to each member's individual ideology (using an aggregation method similar to DW-Nominate). The red and blue dots (the "ayes") cluster near the left and right ends, with more grey dots (the "nos") in the middle … but even then, the pattern is pretty weak. (Contrast that with what a straight party-line vote looks like, as with the graphic of a recent anti-abortion vote in the House, seen at right.)
The same pattern applies if you look at the lean of the districts that elected the members. As I'm sure you instinctively know, district lean tends to correlate strongly with the ideology of representatives: liberals tend to come from the solidly blue districts, hard-core conservatives from the solidly red ones, and more centrist members from the swingy districts. And, as a result, the "aye" votes tend to come from the bluest and red districts, with the "no" votes shoved to the middle. Nevertheless, there are too many exceptions to call that a strong trend either: Of the 10 bluest districts, there were still three "no" votes (from Greg Meeks, Donald Payne and Frederica Wilson), while of the 10 reddest districts, there were six "no" votes (concentrated in the Texas delegation, which still tends to be more authoritarian than libertarian).
In fact, the idea that certain states tend to be more libertarian-flavored or authoritarian-flavored gets some support from this vote. In particular, the "aye" votes tended to be clustered in the western states, especially the empty ones. All seven members (3 D and 4 R) from Colorado voted "aye," along with all three from New Mexico, four out of five from Oregon, three of four from Utah (with that state's lone Dem, Jim Matheson, the only "no"), and the sole at-large GOP Reps. from Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. (Washington breaks the trend with a "no" majority, with a number of Dem members with military bases in their districts who tend to be more national-security focused.)
Contrast that with the Midwest, which seems disproportionately oriented toward "no" votes; Indiana, oddly enough, seems to be the epicenter, with eight of nine members voting "no." Illinois, with four "ayes" out of 18, and Ohio, with four "ayes" out of 16, also fit that trend. The South, which you might instinctively think is the nation's most authoritarian-flavored region, instead is more of a mixed bag; there are a lot of "no" votes, but "ayes" are strong in states where tea party types have been particularly successful at winning primaries, like Tennessee (eight of nine "aye" votes, with Dem Jim Cooper the only "no") and South Carolina (all seven votes are "aye").
The vague trend that we've discussed—where the middle supports the national-security apparatus and both ends of the spectrum are suspicious of it—points to an interesting chicken-and-egg question about how members vote, when there's no clear partisan Democratic versus Republican break point. Did the members who voted "aye" (the anti-establishment position, in other words) feel more free to vote their conscience because they aren't worried about re-election (or maybe they didn't vote their conscience, but were more worried about an ideological primary rather than the general election)?
Or is a solidly blue or solidly red district likelier to elect an anti-establishmentarian/suspicious-of-the-Man candidate in the first place? Similarly, is a swing district representative likely to be worried about having a "yes" vote held against him in the general, or do swing districts just elect more process-oriented, go-with-the-flow members? Clearly there's no right or wrong answer to that, just as the age-old question of liberty versus security itself creates its own set of ambiguities.