WASHINGTON — In a rare display of bipartisanship, all seven of Colorado’s U.S. Representatives voted to defund the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program Wednesday night. The breadth of support was a surprise and rebuke to defenders of the spying program, but the House rejected the amendment 205 to 217.
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) cited liberty and privacy concerns about the NSA program, a familiar refrain among those who cast an “aye” vote for the amendment.
“There has been a concern, in my district and around the country, if you aren’t guilty of something, why are you paying attention to me? It’s government overreach,” Tipton said in an interview.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) helped manage debate on the House floor in support of the amendment.
“Many Americans feel that our fundamental liberties as a country and our constitutional rights are threatened,” Polis said minutes before the full House voted on the amendment sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.).
“In addition, it has ruined and hurt our reputation abroad — threatening our trade relationships with allies, threatening Americans jobs as a result, and putting in danger our cooperative security relationships that we need to fight the war on terror,” Polis added.
The amendment sought to end the government’s controversial program of mass surveillance of Americans. Had it passed, it would have prevented the NSA from keeping a pool of metadata on every phone call, and required the federal government to provide facts to the courts to show reasonable justification.
Diana DeGette of Denver and Ed Perlmutter of Golden as well as Republican representatives Cory Gardner of Yuma and Mike Coffman of Aurora voted for the measure.
The breakdown of the vote was more reminiscent of the 1960s and ’70s than those of recent years.
Members of the political establishment opposed the amendment nearly uniformly — President Obama, all four House Republican leaders, and the top two Democratic House leaders (Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer).
By contrast, the partisan breakdown was more narrow. Ninety-four Republicans and 111 Democrats supported the amendment, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats opposed it.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) whose district includes NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, helped lead the charge against the measure.
The ranking Democrat on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Ruppersberger said he received a call from chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on Monday night that support for Amash’s amendment was growing.
To rebut critics, he argued that a fully funded NSA program was necessary tool in the war on terrorism.
“If this bill would have passed, it would have prevented us from finding terrorists, the needle in the haystack,” Ruppersberger said in an interview.
Ruppersberger defended the surveillance program from attacks it threatens civil liberties. He noted that the names and addresses of Americans do not appear on NSA call lists. Supporters of the amendment noted that the phone number and number of calls appear, though.
Yet Ruppersberger acknowledged that defenders of the NSA spying program need to explain their position more effectively.
“I get the message. Rogers gets the message. We need to find ways educate people about this program,” Ruppersberger said. “And that’s what we’re going to do.”