Historic House Vote on Privacy Protection—Obama and Spy Establishment Barely Eke Out a Majority
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It’s now painfully clear that the president has put out a contract on the Fourth Amendment. And at the Capitol, the hierarchies of both parties are stuffing it into the trunks of their limousines, so each provision can be neatly fitted with cement shoes and delivered to the bottom of the Potomac.
Some other Americans are on a rescue mission. One of them, Congressman Justin Amash, began a debate on the House floorWednesday with a vow to “defend the Fourth Amendment.” That’s really what his amendment -- requiring that surveillance be warranted -- was all about.
No argument for the Amash amendment was more trenchant than the one offered by South Carolina Republican Jeff Duncan, who simply read the Fourth Amendment aloud.
To quote those words was to take a clear side: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Edward Snowden’s heroic revelations have made it possible for some House members from both parties to blow away the fog that shrouds so much tap dancing on Capitol Hill. When the Amash amendment went to the floor, there was no place left to hide.
To their historic shame, 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against Amash’s amendment (while 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted for it). That’s how the measure lost, 217-205.
The record of the House vote tells us a lot. Top Republicans -- including Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy -- voted with Obama policies to keep smothering the Fourth Amendment. So did top Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
The stench at the pinnacle of GOP power hardly surprises most Democrats. But on civil liberties -- as on so many other profound issues -- a similar odor is emanating from the upper reaches of Democratic power on Capitol Hill, where Pelosi and Hoyer are far from the only Democrats who have become reflexive servants of indefensible Obama policies.
Consider some of the other Democratic luminaries in the House who voted against the Amash amendment: The Democratic National Committee’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s former chair Chris Van Hollen. The DCCC’s current chair, Steve Israel.
Some of the other Democrats who voted no on the Amash amendment include progressive-aura lawmakers like Ami Bera (Calif.), Joaquin Castro (Texas), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Joe Kennedy (Mass.), Annie Kuster (N.H.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.)
Deserving special mention for their deplorable votes against Amash’s amendment are Sheila Jackson Lee from Houston and Jan Schakowsky from Chicago. Both are vice chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
I’ve been critical of the Progressive Caucus for enabling Obama’s rightward moves by doing scant pushback. But credit where due: on Wednesday, aside from Jackson Lee and Schakowsky, the other six officers of the Progressive Caucus and a large majority of its more than 70 members supported the Amash amendment. Eloquence in the floor debate came from John Conyers (the lead co-sponsor of the Amash amendment), Jared Polis, Zoe Lofgren and Jerrold Nadler.
Yet they were no match for the White House, with its media spin machine and behind-the-curtain arm twisting.
President Obama has a firm grip on levers of power, and anyone who thinks that his administration has been chastened enough to tread more carefully on civil liberties is engaged in wishful thinking.