The U.S. House of Representatives came remarkably close to passing legislation that would block the National Security Agency's dragnet collection of American phone records on Wednesday.
Philadelphia U.S. Reps. Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah both voted "yes" on the Amash amendment, joining a bipartisan coalition of progressive Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans to challenge national security hawks led by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. The measure, which would have barred the NSA from surveilling Americans who are not a specific target of a law enforcement investigation, failed by a slim 205-217.
"I voted against the Patriot Act," Fattah reminded City Paper. "I think we should go after bad guys, but I don't think we should infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens. … It was a close vote, and I think it made a statement."
A spokesperson for Brady said the bill would "increase privacy" and limit "the collection of personal information of everyday Americans."
Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who is gearing up to run for governor, voted "no." And she drew harsh criticism from civil libertarians.
“It is disappointing that Rep. Schwartz did not take a stand against a program that flagrantly violates Americans' privacy rights," Pennsylvania ACLU Executive Director Reggie Shuford said in an email.
Rep. Schwartz contends that the bill would have undermined national security.
"I strongly believe that we must aggressively intercept terrorists' communications, track their whereabouts, disrupt their plans and eliminate threats," she said, in a statement provided to City Paper. "I opposed Rep. [Justin] Amash's amendment because it did not achieve the critical balance between national security and civil liberties. Congress must engage in ongoing oversight and review of our national security activities so that we adequately protect both the security of our nation and the civil liberties of all Americans.”
Notably, the only reason that Congress has even publicly acknowledged the NSA's domestic spying dragnet is because whistleblower Edward Snowden released the theretofore classified information. President Obama has announced that he "welcomes" a debate over the balance between civil liberties and national security. Snowden is currently hiding from said president's prosecutors in a Russian airport trying to find his way to asylum.
Daily News columnist Will Bunch asks whether progressives should support Schwartz in her campaign for governor, where she is running ahead in a crowded primary field to unseat unpopular Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
"You can run for higher office as 'a progressive' — or you can support a government that operates in violation of the 4th Amendment. I don't understand how you can do both," Bunch writes. "The point is that Schwartz's bad vote yesterday on government spying is another reason why Democrats would be smart to have a real primary, and not a coronation."
Bucks County Republican Mike Fitzpatrick also supported the bill, calling it a vote for "personal liberty."
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