On the RNC Platform Finding NSA Programs Unconstitutional
The Republican National Committee is claiming that the USA Patriot Act’s NSA provisions are now unconstitutional?
And they want investigations too?
A page-long resolution also called for “a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying.” This committee would then make suggestions for reform beyond what President Barack Obama suggested a week ago. The committee also wants to “hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.”
The full text of the resolution is here.
It would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetically politically motivated.
Back in 2001, Congress overwhelmingly approved the Patriot Act:
senate.gov (passed US Senate 98-1, the one person being Russ Feingold).
clerk.house.gov (211 GOPers approved, versus 3 opposed, including Ron Paul; 145 Democrats approved versus 66 opposed).
Read carefully through the names of those who approved the Patriot Act. There are a whole lot of familiar names. Both Darrell Issa and John Boehner voted for the Act.
But if that isn’t enough, let’s look more recently at the 2011 extension of the Patriot Act. It passed 250-153 with 28 no votes. Once again, Issa voted for. Even Louie Gohmert voted for this.
By investigations, I guess that means Darrell Issa will have to investigate himself.
Back in 2001, every GOP senator voted for this; some of them are still in the US Senate today. Did any of them misunderstand the Act? Did every one of the 211 GOPers who voted for it in the House misunderstand the Act and ignore the constitutionality? Some of them are still in Congress today too.
Did any of these same people then suddenly find that the law was unconstitutional in 2011 when they reauthorized the provisions of the Patriot Act (Pub.L. 112-14), knowing full well that there were provisions that might collect data on the US, inadvertently or on purpose? The answer, of course, is no; they approved the legislation and reauthorized the law enabling the NSA to continue gathering data.
Back in 2006, the media revealed that the NSA amassed a massive database of calls, which they said was targeted on international calls, but that too had caveats.
Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers’ names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA’s domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, declined to discuss the agency’s operations. “Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide,” he said. “However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law.”
The White House would not discuss the domestic call-tracking program. “There is no domestic surveillance without court approval,” said Dana Perino, deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.
She added that all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government “are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.” All government-sponsored intelligence activities “are carefully reviewed and monitored,” Perino said. She also noted that “all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States.”
So, even after the 2006 revelations and Congressional briefings by security officials, they were still satisfied that the programs were constitutional.
So what’s changed that the GOP is now claiming that these programs/actions are unconstitutional.
It isn’t the NSA’s actions.
It isn’t the law either.
I’d argue that the only thing that’s changed is that the GOP thinks that they’ve found an issue on which to hurt Democrats. I’m not alone in finding the flip-flop on the NSA and eavesdropping programs that the GOP formerly authorized so confounding (well, not really - it’s more enlightening about tactics and politics than about the specific policy itself).
But by convenience (and in the same way that they turned on a dime to claim that the ACA’s individual mandate was unconstitutional) they’re now claiming that a position they once held was unconstitutional.
It’s got nothing to do with the constitutionality of the NSA enabling legislation or the actions/results of the NSA programs. It has a whole lot to do with who won the White House and who won reelection in 2012.
So, it leads to a quandary: is the GOP pleading ignorance of the law they championed, or are they playing politics in the hopes of dinging the President and Democrats? It’s not like they can claim they were duped either. The 2006 revelations were well documented and should have informed decisions to reauthorize the law, including in 2011, and yet the law was reauthorized without concern about the constitutionality by these Republicans.
Well, they’re going to play it both ways. And neither is particularly satisfying.
It’s one thing to argue that the programs should be allowed to sunset because the threat has past or that additional reforms need to be instituted. It’s quite another to claim that the program is unconstitutional little more than a year after reauthorizing the law for a second time.
It was enacted with sunset clauses, meaning that it would require Congress to reauthorize - to look at the law with a critical eye and evaluate how the law operated in practice. They’ve now done so at least two times - 2006 and 2011, with amendments added in several other acts of Congress since first enacted in 2001.
Each time, the law was approved with support from Republicans.
Indeed, the current version of the law is far more protective of US civil rights and limits what the NSA can do with far stronger oversight. Many of the revelations about the NSA refer to actions before the Obama Administration came to office and before the reforms were instituted.
Only now, with a Democrat in the White House is there a complaint that the ongoing program is unconstitutional, when it was revealed to be doing the same exact thing that it was revealed to have done in 2006 (and to which Congress knew or should have known all along pursuant to the regular briefings to Congress).
Cross posted at A Blog For All.