Sensenbrenner Vows to Challenge Leadership on NSA Reform

US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, listens after questioning US Attorney General Eric Holder as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC, December 8, 2011. Sensenbrenner warned Holder that he was tired of not getting the truth on Fast and Furious saying Holder could either give Congress the truth they were asking for or "impeachment" could be pursued. Holder faced a congressional hearing over a scandal which allowed US weapons to find their way into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
Nov. 26, 2013, 12:28 p.m.

A re­cent power play by House lead­er­ship on le­gis­la­tion to re­form Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency sur­veil­lance has cast re­form ad­voc­ates in a tailspin as they hunt for op­por­tun­it­ies to ad­vance their cause.

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship aides say they are still ham­mer­ing out plans for the highly an­ti­cip­ated de­bate over the reach of the NSA’s power to gath­er in­form­a­tion from the phone and In­ter­net re­cords of mil­lions of or­din­ary Amer­ic­ans.

Last week, lead­er­ship ab­ruptly pulled the plug on a markup in the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, so that le­gis­la­tion that would pro­tect the NSA’s con­tro­ver­sial sur­veil­lance could go straight to the floor. That move is rais­ing con­sterna­tion among re­form cham­pi­ons who want to put lim­its on gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance.

Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, R-Wis. — a seni­or Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee mem­ber who was a lead­ing au­thor of the USA Pat­ri­ot Act, which paved the way for the NSA’s sur­veil­lance prac­tices — is vow­ing to chal­lenge House lead­ers.

If lead­er­ship brings the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee bill, led by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Cal­if., Frank Lo­Bi­ondo, R-N.J., and In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Ro­gers, R-Mich., to the floor, Sensen­bren­ner told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily he would go to the Rules Com­mit­tee and de­mand a vote on his bill too.

“If Ro­gers’s bill goes to the floor, I will ask the Rules Com­mit­tee to make my bill in or­der,” Sensen­bren­ner said.

Sensen­bren­ner’s bill would end the NSA’s bulk data-col­lec­tion meth­ods, and it has been re­ferred to the Ju­di­ciary, In­tel­li­gence, and Fin­an­cial Ser­vices com­mit­tees.

The Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, led by Chair­man Bob Good­latte, R-Va., has primary jur­is­dic­tion over the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court, which au­thor­izes the NSA activ­it­ies, and it has ex­pec­ted to have its say in this de­bate.

“It’s our very strong pref­er­ence to have Ju­di­ciary have its im­print on whatever product comes about,” said a com­mit­tee aide. “This is our primary jur­is­dic­tion so we ex­pect to be lead­ing the ef­fort.”

But lead­er­ship in both parties has largely taken steps to de­fend the status quo, ar­guing that the NSA’s sur­veil­lance meth­ods are ne­ces­sary to thwart ter­ror­ist threats.

“Both [Speak­er John] Boehner and [Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy] Pelosi are in fa­vor of what the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is do­ing,” Sensen­bren­ner said. “The biggest chal­lenge is pro­ced­ur­ally to get a vote. If Ju­di­ciary is short-cir­cuited on the Ro­gers’ bill and it is brought dir­ectly to the floor, then I think I ought to be al­lowed to bring my bill dir­ectly to the floor and let the House de­cide.”

Sensen­bren­ner’s bill has at­trac­ted 103 co­spon­sors.

Sensen­bren­ner said that as a former Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man he is fa­mil­i­ar with how to use House pro­ced­ure to his ad­vant­age, but he ad­mit­ted fig­ur­ing out how to se­cure a vote “is to be de­term­ined.”

“I know the rules and I know how one can use the rules to ad­vance le­gis­la­tion. That is how there were 115 Ju­di­ciary bills that ac­tu­ally were signed,” he said.

The In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is ex­pect­ing both a sep­ar­ate in­tel­li­gence au­thor­iz­a­tion bill, which passed the com­mit­tee last week, and its NSA bill to come to the floor sep­ar­ately this year.

Lead­er­ship is so far non­com­mit­tal on the tim­ing and pro­cess.

A seni­or House GOP aide said there had been little dis­cus­sion as of Tues­day about po­ten­tial floor ac­tion next week on the In­tel­li­gence au­thor­iz­a­tion or NSA re­form.

“If we are do­ing those, it would prob­ably be the second week in Decem­ber,” the aide said.

A dif­fer­ent lead­er­ship aide re­it­er­ated com­ments made last week when the In­tel­li­gence vote was yanked.

“There is sig­ni­fic­ant mem­ber in­terest in this is­sue as well as mul­tiple com­mit­tees with jur­is­dic­tion. Lead­er­ship is work­ing to en­sure that there is a well-co­ordin­ated pro­cess with all in­ter­ested parties go­ing for­ward,” the aide said.

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