Thursday, July 25, 2013

ROLL CALL: See How MD House Members Voted on NSA Mass Surveillance // HINT: Vote Edwards or Sarbanes for US Senate?

BACKGROUND: Yesterday Maryland Juice reported that in response to revelations that our government was engaging in constitutionally questionable mass surveillance of Americans, the U.S. House of Representatives would be voting on a proposal to end funding for the NSA's warehousing of your communications. For years Democrats berated President George W. Bush and his minions (Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft) over their post-9/11 war on civil liberties and the Constitution. But for years now, we've watched as the Democrats took power and used their status to continue and expand Bush's assault on our privacy and liberty.

Yesterday the nation got a chance to see who among the hundreds of members of the U.S. House would actually be willing to take a vote to restore due process. Unfortunately, the effort to protect civil liberties came breathtakingly close but fell short by a handful of votes in a 205 to 217 vote.

Maryland's eight U.S. House members split 50/50 on protecting due process and your privacy, and a switch of only seven votes would've changed the outcome in favor of the people. Below we highlight how the Free State's Congressional delegation voted on the effort to end the NSA's mass surveillance program, and we provide some political context for the pathetic anti-civil liberties votes from four of our U.S. House members. But first, The New York Times reported on the broad context of the anti-surveillance effort (excerpt below):
NEW YORK TIMES: A deeply divided House defeated legislation Wednesday that would have blocked the National Security Agency from collecting vast amounts of phone records, handing the Obama administration a hard-fought victory in the first Congressional showdown over the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities since Edward J. Snowden’s security breaches last month.

The 205-to-217 vote was far closer than expected and came after a brief but impassioned debate over citizens’ right to privacy and the steps the government must take to protect national security. It was a rare instance in which a classified intelligence program was openly discussed on the House floor, and disagreements over the  program led to some unusual coalitions....
The amendment to the annual Defense Department spending bill, written by Representatives Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican from Western Michigan, and John Conyers Jr., a veteran liberal Democrat from Detroit, turned Democrat against Democrat and Republican against Republican. It would have limited N.S.A. phone surveillance to specific targets of law enforcement investigations, not broad dragnets....

Mr. Amash framed his push as a defense of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, and he found a surprising ally, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin and one of the principal authors of the Patriot Act. Mr. Sensenbrenner said his handiwork was never meant to create a program that allows the government to demand the phone records of every American. “The time has come to stop it,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said....

Ultimately, 94 House Republicans defied their leadership; 111 Democrats — a majority of the Democratic caucus — defied their president....

HOW DID MARYLAND'S U.S. HOUSE MEMBERS VOTE?- Though a majority of U.S. House Democrats voted to curb the NSA's sketchy mass surveillance program, a majority of Maryland's U.S. House Democrats voted to continue the erosion of their constituents' privacy rights and civil liberties. See the Maryland roll call below:
  • Rep. Elijah Cummings - CD7 Democrat
  • Rep. Donna Edwards - CD4 Democrat
  • Rep. Andy Harris - CD1 Republican
  • Rep. John Sarbanes - CD3 Democrat
  • Rep. John Delaney - CD6 Democrat
  • Rep. Steny Hoyer - CD5 Democrat
  • Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger - CD2 Democrat
  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen - CD8 Democrat

SHADINESS FROM MARYLAND'S HOUSE DEMOCRATS WHO SUPPORT NSA SPYING - Four Maryland Democratic House members voted to continue funding the NSA's mass surveillance program, joining a majority of Republicans, including policymakers like Michele Bachmann, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor. Let's explore the anti-civil liberties votes (and some hypocrisy) from a few of Maryland's Democrats below:

#1 - REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER: Ruppersberger's vote to continue funding the NSA's mass surveillance program should not come as a surprise to anybody. The NSA, after all, is headquartered in his district, and Dutch co-authored the controversial CISPA cybersnooping proposal which failed earlier this year (ironically with the backdrop of a White House veto threat that cited the privacy rights of individuals). But it is worth noting the numerous reports that Rep. Ruppersberger is one of the top recipients of contributions from the same Pentagon contractors who are doing much of the spying. The Washington Times reiterated this point last month (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON TIMES: Six of the largest government contractors doing “Top Secret” work for the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies have given more than $16 million to lawmakers since 2007, according to Maplight, a firm that tracks political donations.   

The biggest donors were Lockheed Martin, whose employees gave over $5 million; Boeing, Inc. whose workers chipped in more than $4.5 million; and Northrop Grumman, $3.3 million....

Democratic Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, whose Maryland district includes the Fort Meade headquarters of the NSA, and who is the ranking member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, received the second most in contributions, with just over $225,000....

#2 - REP. STENY HOYER: Steny Hoyer's vote to continue the mass surveillance of Americans is also not a shocker. Hoyer previously voted for the Patriot Act twice. Moreover, in past months, Hoyer was running around the country endorsing centrist/conservative Democrats in contested Democratic Primaries, presumably in the hope of finding allies in his quest to succeed Nancy Pelosi. But even more disturbing than Hoyer's positioning against progressives is his seeming use of the Patriot Act and government surveillance as political tools. For example, Maryland Juice located a 2005 press release from Mr. Hoyer where he hypocritically chastised Republicans over their use of the Patriot Act, before voting for it multiple times. Interestingly, the press release appears to have been removed from Hoyer's website, though I was able to track down a backed up copy (excerpt below):
STENY HOYER (CIRCA 2005):  House Republicans Abdicate Oversight on Patriot Act

Today, on this House floor, the American people will see no division in our willingness to do what is necessary to fight terrorism. What they will see today, however, is an absolute abuse of power by this Republican Majority – which has deliberately and purposely chosen to stifle a full debate on this important legislation, the Patriot Act.

This Republican rule is nothing less than a craven failure of our Congressional oversight responsibility on legislation that involves the government’s power to intrude on American lives. Every single year, Mr. Speaker, this Congress reauthorizes Department of Defense programs.  This reauthorization process allows us to assess, to re-examine and to re-calibrate our defense policies to the changing circumstances.

Today, however, we are being forced by this Republican Majority to permanently authorize 14 of 16 provisions of the Patriot Act.  And, we are being forced to extend the remaining two provisions – one that involves “roving” wiretaps; the other dealing with the FBI’s power to demand business records – for 10 years.

Democrats fought to sunset these provisions.  Why?  Because when it comes to the government’s power to intrude on the private lives of American citizens, the United States Congress should not be a participant in giving the government unchecked power to do so.  But our Republican friends seem to be afraid of a free, full debate on this issue.  Why are they so afraid of our democratic process?....

This Republican rule is an affront not only to Democrats – but to the American people and to our constitutional principles. And, history will record it as such.  Vote no on this rule.

#3 - REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Van Hollen is actually my own representative in Congress, so his vote to continue supporting the mass surveillance of Americans (including me) is very, very disappointing. Many of us expect a solid progressive voting record from Rep. Van Hollen, especially considering that his district is anchored in liberal Montgomery County. But the vote to continue eroding civil liberties and due process for Van Hollen's constituents appears to be the latest in a small string of support for the military industrial complex from someone who is often seen as Montgomery County's "golden boy."

In March of 2011, Van Hollen voted against winding down the war in Afghanistan (note that Rep. Donna Edwards was the only House member from Maryland to vote to end the war). Then in October of 2011, the Montgomery County Council introduced a completely symbolic resolution asking Congress to spend more money on social programs instead of war. The resolution had enough sponsors to pass, but strangely The Washington Post reported that it was withdrawn after lobbying by Lockheed Martin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: A Montgomery County Council resolution asking Congress to spend less on wars and redirect the funds to social programs has drawn the scrutiny of one of the county’s largest employers and other lawmakers.... The nonbinding resolution, introduced by County Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), had gained a 5 to 4 majority on the council and was scheduled for a vote Tuesday.

But late last week, lawmakers and Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin, a defense contracting giant that employs more than 5,000 workers in Montgomery, urged county officials against the resolution. Ervin has withdrawn the measure, citing lack of support.

Council members and county officials were called by one of Lockheed Martin’s top lobbyists, a state delegate, and the offices of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D)....
Going back to the topic of the Patriot Act, it should be highlighted that like Steny Hoyer, Van Hollen sang a different tune in 2005. Check out his hilariously contradictory past statements about the Patriot Act (excerpt below):
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (CIRCA 2005): Mr. Chairman, I rise to explain my decision to vote against the Conference Report on the Patriot Act.... It is very important that, in our effort to defend the liberties that Americans cherish, we not enact measures that erode the very freedoms we seek to protect. We can ensure that the government has the necessary surveillance powers without sacrificing the privacy rights of Americans....

Unlike the Senate bill, the Conference Report allows the government to obtain personal information on a mere showing of “relevance,” thereby striking the safeguard contained in the Senate passed bill that required a three-part test.  This allows the government to obtain this information without demonstrating that the information that they are seeking has some connection to a terrorist or a spy....

It is important that any policy that is advanced to enhance our nation’s security always maintains appropriate “sunshine” and checks and balances on those law enforcement and intelligence agencies that are empowered to promote national security.  History reminds us that these law enforcement tools can be overzealously used and may also be directed at innocent parties....

#4 - REP. JOHN DELANEY: There's not much to say about John Delaney's vote to support the mass surveillance of his constituents. As a freshman lawmaker with no legislative record, politicos had little information available to try and predict how Delaney might vote in Congress. But I guess we're beginning to get a sense of him, and if this vote is any indication, it does not appear that Delaney prioritizes civil liberties or due process. This morning, however, I did receive the following press statement from Delaney's office "explaining" his vote:
JOHN DELANEY: In considering the Amash amendment, I do not believe that it represents the best approach to this critical national security topic. Oversight and smart reform deserve full deliberation and consideration. Unfortunately, this was a hurried debate on truly sweeping changes, via an amendment to the defense appropriations bill. Such an approach does not do justice to the seriousness of the issue, for either side.

The surveillance programs administered by the NSA and other agencies raise serious and troubling constitutional questions that need to be resolved. With new technologies emerging each day, we need to continually revisit our government practices. Our system of government has checks in place and Congress has an important oversight role. We should continue to be vigilant, ensuring that our constitutional rights are protected and I hope we have a serious debate about the future of this program. 
Basically it sounds like Delaney did not have enough time to think about whether the gutting of the 4th amendment and mass surveillance of his constituents was kosher. Um, okay. It was also reported this week that he stands to earn $69 million from the sale of his company, so maybe he's banking on being able to vote however he wants.

A HYPOTHETICAL OPEN SEAT PRIMARY FOR U.S. SENATE? -  So there you have it folks -- only four of Maryland's eight U.S. House members voted to curb the mass surveillance of their constituents, and one of the four "good" votes even came from Tea Party Rep. Andy Harris. Where does that leave progressives in the event that a U.S. Senate seat opens up down the road? At this point in time it seems like most of Maryland's congressional delegation would be interested in a promotion to the U.S. Senate, but there seem to be dwindling choices for those of us who are tired of the "inside" game when it comes to issues of justice and liberty. If the election were held today, based on the trajectory of these voting records, Maryland Juice would be forced to take a close look at Rep. Donna Edwards and Rep. John Sarbanes. I hate to say it, but a lot of other folks in our delegation are looking kind of suspect right now.... You can attribute this partly to their ambition, partly to their unwillingness to buck leadership, and partly to their feelings of invincibility in their current positions (*eye roll*).  But as one of my friends used to enjoy stating, "nobody's irreplaceable." And you can bet that if a U.S. Senate seat eventually emerges, Maryland's progressive primary electorate will be able to quickly rule out some of the potential options. But there's still time for these wayward lawmakers to make it right!

ANGRY TWEETS AGAINST THE FOUR MARYLAND DEMOCRATS WHO SUPPORTED MASS SURVEILLANCE - Maryland Juice is not the only one who is extremely irate about the assault on civil liberties from Congress. After the NSA vote, we saw a number of angry Tweets being directed at Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. John Delaney and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (samples below):

BACK TO SCHOOL FOR A CIVICS LESSON? - Amazingly, a wide range of telephone and Internet companies decided to give the NSA access to your user data (eg: Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Skype, YouTube, etc). That is a situation that will need to be addressed by consumers very soon. But even more disturbing than the corporate misbehavior is that a large chunk of Congress (aka our representatives) apparently need a civics refresher course. After all, Maryland Juice would argue that this NSA surveillance vote was no ordinary vote. Whether the U.S. government can snoop without justification on the communications of millions of innocent Americans raises fundamental questions about due process, civil liberties, and abuse of power -- and more importantly, the issue begs the question of where these lawmakers draw the line when acting in the name of our safety. The slippery slope we all feared when Bush implemented the Patriot Act has become all too real, and Congress continues to let it happen. Enough already!

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