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Hawaii House members split votes on NSA surveillance

By Donna Cassata

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 04:00 p.m. HST, Jul 24, 2013

WASHINGTON >> Hawaii's two congresswomen split their votes as the House narrowly rejected a challenge to the National Security Agency's secret collection of hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records tonight 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' national security experts.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard voted to end the program, while Rep. Colleen Hanabusa voted to continue it, according to an Associated Press roll call of the vote. Both Hawaii congresswomen are Democrats.

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.

Backing the NSA program were 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who typically does not vote, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Rejecting the administration's last-minute pleas to spare the surveillance operation were 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats.

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, R-Mich., 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."

"Opponents of this amendment will use the same tactic that every government throughout history has used to justify its violation of rights: Fear," he said. "They'll tell you that the government must violate the rights of the American people to protect us against those who hate our freedom."

The unlikely political coalitions were on full display during a spirited but brief House debate.

"Let us not deal in false narratives. Let's deal in facts that will keep Americans safe," said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a member of the Intelligence committee who implored her colleagues to back a program that she argued was vital in combatting terrorism.

But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who helped write the Patriot Act, insisted "the time has come" to stop the collection of phone records that goes far beyond what he envisioned.

Several Republicans acknowledged the difficulty in balancing civil liberties against national security, but expressed suspicion about the Obama administration's implementation of the NSA programs — and anger at Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

"Right now the balancing is being done by people we do not know. People who lied to this body," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.

He was referring to Clapper who admitted he gave misleading statements to Congress on how much the U.S. spies on Americans. Clapper apologized to lawmakers earlier this month after saying in March that the U.S. does not gather data on citizens — something that Snowden revealed as false by releasing documents showing the NSA collects millions of phone records.

With a flurry of letters, statements and tweets, both sides lobbied furiously in the hours prior to the vote in the Republican-controlled House. In a last-minute statement, Clapper warned against dismantling a critical intelligence tool.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress has authorized — and a Republican and a Democratic president have signed — extensions of the powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.

Two years ago, in a strong bipartisan statement, the Senate voted 72-23 to renew the Patriot Act and the House backed the extension 250-153.

Since the disclosures this year, however, lawmakers have said they were shocked by the scope of the two programs — one to collect records of hundreds of millions of calls and the other allowing the NSA to sweep up Internet usage data from around the world that goes through nine major U.S.-based providers.

Although Republican leaders agreed to a vote on the Amash amendment, one of 100 to the defense spending bill, time for debate was limited to 15 minutes out of the two days the House dedicated to the overall legislation.

The White House and the director of the NSA, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, made last-minute appeals to lawmakers, urging them to oppose the amendment. Rogers and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, implored their colleagues to back the NSA program.

Eight former attorneys general, CIA directors and national security experts wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the two programs are fully authorized by law and "conducted in a manner that appropriately respects the privacy and civil liberties interests of Americans."

White House press secretary Jay Carney issued an unusual, nighttime statement on the eve of Wednesday's vote, arguing that the change would "hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community's counterterrorism tools."

Proponents of the NSA programs argue that the surveillance operations have been successful in thwarting at least 50 terror plots across 20 countries, including 10 to 12 directed at the United States. Among them was a 2009 plot to strike at the New York Stock Exchange.

Rogers joined six GOP chairmen in a letter urging lawmakers to reject the Amash amendment.

"While many members have legitimate questions about the NSA metadata program, including whether there are sufficient protections for Americans' civil liberties," the chairman wrote, "eliminating this program altogether without careful deliberation would not reflect our duty, under Article I of the Constitution, to provide for the common defense."

The overall defense spending bill would provide the Pentagon with $512.5 billion for weapons, personnel, aircraft and ships plus $85.8 billion for the war in Afghanistan for the next budget year.

The total, which is $5.1 billion below current spending, has drawn a veto threat from the White House, which argues that it would force the administration to cut education, health research and other domestic programs in order to boost spending for the Pentagon.

In a leap of faith, the bill assumes that Congress and the administration will resolve the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that have led the Pentagon to furlough workers and cut back on training. The bill projects spending in the next fiscal year at $28.1 billion above the so-called sequester level.

By voice vote, the House backed an amendment that would require the president to seek congressional approval before sending U.S. military forces into the 2-year-old civil war in Syria.

Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., sponsor of the measure, said Obama has a "cloudy foreign policy" and noted the nation's war weariness after more than 10 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The administration is moving ahead with sending weapons to vetted rebels, but Obama and members of Congress have rejected the notion of U.S. ground forces.

The House also adopted, by voice vote, an amendment barring funds for military or paramilitary operations in Egypt. Several lawmakers, including Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who heads the panel overseeing foreign aid, expressed concerns about the measure jeopardizing the United States' longstanding relationship with the Egyptian military.

The sponsor of the measure, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., insisted that his amendment would not affect that relationship.

The overall bill must be reconciled with whatever measure the Democratic-controlled Senate produces.

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noheawilli wrote:
Way to go Tulsi! Colleen please read up on the 4th amendment.
on July 24,2013 | 03:30PM
sayer wrote:
Seriously - they can mine all the data they want if there is reasonable cause. But to troll everyone's data for absolutely no reason other than to fish for something? Just remember - absolute power corrupts absolutely. We are moving in that direction and it's scary.
on July 25,2013 | 05:33AM
DownSpout wrote:
Way to go Colleen! Tulsi please go back to study hall.
on July 24,2013 | 03:55PM
pcman wrote:
IRT Down on national security. Collen for and Tulsi against he NSA data collection program. Just goes to prove that despite being a vet, officer to boot, that Tulsi has no clue of what national security means to everyone. Everyone has to give up a little freedom for the security of the whole country. Anyway who is so important that they believe NSA is surveilling them for no valid threat to national security?
on July 25,2013 | 07:34AM
KailuaKowboy wrote:
Tulsi will say and do anything to get on tv.
on July 25,2013 | 08:26AM
Anonymous wrote:
According to CNN the evidence shows the NSA programs are little more than fishing expeditions with nothing to show for them. "Indeed, a survey of court documents and media accounts of all the jihadist terrorist plots in the United States since 9/11 by the New America Foundation shows that traditional law enforcement methods have overwhelmingly played the most significant role in foiling terrorist attacks."
on July 25,2013 | 09:45AM
Anonymous wrote:
That's exactly what I read - they still haven't produced a single instance where the NSA program deterred an attack on U.S. soil. We have to remember this is how totalitarian regimes work - they take away people's basic freedoms in exchange for the illusion of "safety".
on July 25,2013 | 10:20AM
TLehel wrote:
Way to go noheawilli! DownSpout, stay sheep-like.
on July 24,2013 | 04:02PM
Anonymous wrote:
Almost more like a lemming. Right over the cliff.
on July 25,2013 | 09:45AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
The NSA surveillance program was a concern because it seemed to over reach. But to vote to throw it out entirely without having a plan for what happens next is naive..

I got to give this round to Hanabusa. Naive is very dangerous on matters of security.

on July 24,2013 | 04:06PM
Anonymous wrote:
The amendment doesn't throw out the program entirely. It says they need reasonable cause to probe people's phone and email records. Note the word "reasonable." The program as it is - considering everyone in the U.S. a terrorist suspect - is not reasonable.
on July 25,2013 | 09:59AM
EwaWarrior wrote:
Wow, Hanabutta does something right for a change?
on July 24,2013 | 04:14PM
false wrote:
WAY TO GO TULSI!! END THE PROGRAM!!!! hanabusa is in the wrong!
on July 24,2013 | 06:50PM
Skyler wrote:
"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."

Tusli was right on this one.
on July 24,2013 | 08:00PM
Anonymous wrote:
Exactly - no need to identify any individual with the NSA - with this program, everyone in the country with a cell phone or email account is a suspect!
on July 25,2013 | 09:46AM
johndoe wrote:
If you're not breaking any laws then why worry who is listening to your conversations. Freedom is not free.
on July 24,2013 | 08:52PM
ISCREAM wrote:
Invasion of privacy is not freedom...
on July 24,2013 | 09:22PM
EwaWarrior wrote:
There is no guarantee of privacy on the phone system. Don't know why people expect that to be the case. I guess it's the same people who believe social security will meet all their retirement needs.
on July 25,2013 | 09:42AM
IAmSane wrote:
Because I believe in the US Constitution and the fourth amendment, that's why.
on July 24,2013 | 09:53PM
shee26 wrote:
Hmmm... Let terrorists get past us and let them have the advantage or be spied on and not even knowing it. That's an easy one. Tulsi, stop getting ideas from your Occupy groups and the Babes Against Biotech. Hanabusa made the right decision hands down.
on July 24,2013 | 11:40PM
sayer wrote:
They can spy on terrorists all they want. What we're saying is that can't indiscriminately spy on millions of people for no reason who have no connection to terrorism whatsoever!
on July 25,2013 | 05:51AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Colleen got this one right. Any surveillance program that will prevent another 911 is fine with me.
on July 25,2013 | 02:35AM
KailuaKowboy wrote:
One terrorist attack or preventable incident and all the advocates for this amendment would quiet down. The fact that Members of Congress would vote rashly to just defund and end a program without completely thinking it through is one of the reasons that the institution is so unpopular as a whole. Do some aspects of the program go beyond what they were intended to do? Yes. Is it some completely irrational, uncontrolled spy program that intention is to violate Americans constitutional rights on a daily basis? No. Colleen got this right. Tulsi will say anything to get on tv for a minute.
on July 25,2013 | 02:51AM
kainalu wrote:
When I seen the headlines, I thought they split their votes - but the other way around. Tulsi has pleasantly surprised me. Colleen has nearly lost my support, given her actions the past couple months.
on July 25,2013 | 09:13AM
Anonymous wrote:
I know what you mean. I don't care much for Schatz but this vote of Colleen's is a real disappointment.
on July 25,2013 | 09:47AM
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