The week just keeps getting better for Edward Snowden and his like-minded, anti-surveillance compatriots. The Republican National Committee passed a resolution Friday urging Republicans in Congress to pass legislation that would restrict the National Security Agency’s sweeping data-collecting muscle.
The short, 500-word proclamation espouses several libertarian ideals before asking Republican lawmakers to form a special committee to investigate domestic surveillance practices and “hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.”
“The Republican National Committee encourages Republican lawmakers to enact legislation to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the state-secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make it clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity, phone records, and correspondence — electronic, physical, and otherwise — of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court.”
The resolution bleeds with conviction, but also could signal a libertarian-leaning shift in the way Republican operatives hope to appeal to voters in coming elections. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus spoke Friday at the group’s winter meeting in Washington of the GOP’s need to “set a new standard” and be more “conscious of the tone” the party strikes on policy issues. While no doubt a response to Mike Huckabee’s remarks Thursday that Democrats believe “women can’t control their libidos,” Priebus and other party leaders are looking broadly at ways to connect to an electorate they’re frequently charged with not being in touch with.
The platform is sure to be seen as a boon for the libertarian wing of the GOP and is likely a good sign for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential 2016 presidential hopeful whose criticisms of government surveillance have perhaps been unrivaled since Snowden’s leaks began last June.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, is the only lawmaker to earn a namedrop in the resolution, which cites his condemnation of the government’s interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act as “an abuse of the law.” Sensenbrenner authored the post-9/11 Patriot Act, which he has repeatedly said has been misinterpreted by both the Bush and Obama administrations to justify ever-increasing collection of data vis-a-vis Section 215’s definition of records “relevant” to a terrorism investigation.
He is now championing the Freedom Act, which aims to reduce bulk data collection, install a public advocate in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and limit Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a 2008 provision allowing government to collect Internet communications from people believed to be living outside the United States.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board this week blasted the government’s use of Section 215 for allowing collection of “information without limit” and recommended the NSA’s collection of telephone metadata be terminated. Last week Obama outlined a series of reforms that would preserve the program but would take retention of the data out of the hands of the government and place it instead with private phone companies or some still-undefined third-party entity.
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House Speaker Paul Ryan today is trying to convince his large but divided conference that they need to pass a budget under regular order. “Conservatives are revolting against higher top-line spending levels negotiated last fall by President Obama and Ryan’s predecessor, then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). GOP centrists are digging in on the other side, pledging to kill any budget that deviates from the two-year, bipartisan budget deal.” Ryan’s three options are to lower the budget numbers to appease the Freedom Caucus, “deem” a budget and move on to the appropriations process, or “preserve Obama-Boehner levels, but seek savings elsewhere.”
“A bill headed for President Barack Obama this week includes a provision that would ban U.S. imports of fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia, gold mined by children in Africa and garments sewn by abused women in Bangladesh, closing a loophole in an 85-year-old tariff law.” The Senate approved the bill, which would also ban Internet taxes and overhaul trade laws, by a vote of 75-20. It now goes to President Obama.
Bernie Sanders has closed to within seven points of Hillary Clinton in a new Morning Consult survey. Clinton leads 46%-39%. Consistent with the New Hampshire voting results, Clinton does best with retirees, while Sanders leads by 20 percentage points among those under 30. On the Republican side, Donald Trump is far ahead with 44% support. Trailing by a huge margin are Ted Cruz (17%), Ben Carson (10%) and Marco Rubio (10%).
President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”
It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”