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.
What We're Following See More »
As Congress continues to bicker on riders to a continuing resolution, federal agencies have started working with the Office of Management and Budget to prepare for a government shutdown, which will occur if no continuing resolution is passed by 11:59 p.m. on Friday night. The OMB held a call with agencies on Sept. 23, one that is required one week before a possible shutdown. The government last shut down for 16 days in 2013, and multiple shutdowns have been narrowly avoided since then. It is expected that Congress will reach a deal before the clock strikes midnight, but until it does, preparations will continue.
President Obama's Clean Power Plan, a large pillar of his efforts to leave a lasting environmental legacy, "goes before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today." The plan "imposes the first national limits on carbon pollution from power plants." A number of consolidated cases finds 27 states challenging this plan, which was blocked by the Supreme Court in February pending decisions from lower courts. The states will argue that the government doesn't have the right to impose restrictions requiring them to shutter plans and restructure full industries.
There seems to be a clear consensus forming about Monday's debate: Hillary Clinton was the winner. One focus group of undecided Pennsylvania voters, conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, found 16 favored Clinton while five picked Donald Trump. In a Florida focus group organized by CNN, 18 of 20 undecided voters saw Clinton as the winner.
As both candidates walked off the stage, Donald Trump lauded himself for being restrained and for not bringing up Bill Clinton. "I didn’t want to say—her husband was in the room along with her daughter, who I think is a very nice young lady—and I didn’t want to say what I was going to say about what’s been going on in their life," Trump said. Trump claims he stopped himself from hitting Bill Clinton because daughter Chelsea was in the room.
At the end of the debate, moderator Lester Holt asked Donald Trump if he stands by his statement that Hillary Clinton didn't have the look of a president. Trump responded by saying Holt misquoted him, instead saying that Clinton "doesn't have the stamina." Clinton responded by saying that when Trump visits 112 countries as secretary of state, he can talk to her about stamina.