GOP Blocks NSA, Sexual Assault Amendments

Posted June 13, 2013 at 9:11am

House members won’t be voting on National Security Agency surveillance — or a high-profile amendment on military sexual assaults — after Republicans on the Rules Committee blocked several amendments from floor consideration late last night.

The committee blocked two amendments to the defense authorization bill — one from liberal Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., and one by conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. — aimed at crippling the NSA’s ability to compile massive databases of U.S. phone and Internet data after last week’s leaks of the agency’s activities.

Grayson would have required probable cause of a crime or involvement in terrorism before data on citizens in the United States could be collected; Huelskamp would have defunded Section VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which includes provisions allowing the NSA to collect massive databases that can be accessed once the government identifies a foreign terror suspect to target and gets an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Grayson called the NSA’s data collection practices leaked last week by now-former Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden “utterly, utterly inconsistent with not only longstanding statutory rules but also the Fourth Amendment,” CQ Roll Call’s Matt Fuller reported.

Huelskamp has likewise ripped the NSA’s collection of records on millions of Americans as a violation of the Constitution.

The Rules Committee also blocked a floor vote on Rep. Jackie Speier’s amendment to take consideration of sexual assault cases out of the military chain of command. The California Democrat’s proposal failed in committee, as did New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s version in the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.

Both Democrats had led a high-profile push for their amendments, which are opposed by military brass and the administration but received national attention in the wake of a series of high-profile incidents and reports on the numbers of assaults.

The military sexual assault issue has divided Democrats, with both Democratic Party congressional campaign committees petitioning for the passage of the amendment despite the opposition of some in party leadership and the Obama administration.

Many other amendments were made in order, including Democratic amendments intended to set the stage for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison by 2015. The Guantanamo amendments aren’t expected to pass. The White House in the past has threatened to veto the authorization bill over Guantanamo restrictions, but President Barack Obama has ended up signing the bills. Obama recently vowed to renew his efforts to close the facility, citing, among other things, the hunger strike going on that has dozens of prisoners being force-fed to keep them alive.

Members of both parties, however, have in previous years doubted the president would veto the giant defense measure over the issue, and they have been right. Obama has only vetoed two measures since taking office — a pace that would set a modern record for fewest vetoes.

Matt Fuller contributed to this report.