Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst opposed Patriot Act revisions (updated)

Two provisions of the Patriot Act and one other legal provision granting surveillance powers expired on Sunday night, as the U.S. Senate failed to pass either a short-term Patriot Act extension or the House-approved USA Freedom Act, which would revise parts of that law. Jamie Dupree wrote a good overview of the key points of contention, including the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection practices. Julian Hattem previews the next likely steps in the Senate and House (assuming the Senate approves an amended version of the USA Freedom Act this week). Carl Hulse analyzed the “lose-lose-lose result” for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who prefers not to curtail NSA surveillance powers but arguably “overplayed his hand.”

How Congress will resolve this dispute remains unclear, but we have learned one thing from the last ten days: Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst oppose the current bipartisan compromise on how to revise the Patriot Act. For Ernst, the expiring Patriot Act provisions “are critical to the safety and security of our country”–a view similar to Representative Steve King’s reasons for voting against “data disarmament” when the House considered the USA Freedom Act.

In Grassley’s more nuanced view, Congress should enact “meaningful reform by ending the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records under Section 215” of the Patriot Act, while allowing the government to gather such information in a targeted way. Grassley also objects to how the USA Freedom Act would reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  

Details on the relevant Senate votes are after the jump, along with statements from Grassley and Ernst. I’ve also noted which Republican senators who are running for president supported either the USA Freedom Act or a short-term Patriot Act extension.

UPDATE: Grassley and Ernst split on June 2 as the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act. Details on their votes are below, along with their explanations. While Iowa’s two Republican senators have voted differently on a handful of amendments or motions related to consideration of other bills, today’s votes represent their first major policy disagreement since Ernst was sworn in.

Scroll to the end of this post for details on how the GOP presidential candidates voted today.

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The disconnect in the Des Moines Register's coverage of Congress

An important Congressional vote went unreported in the Des Moines Register this week, despite two lead editorials in the paper within the past month urging Congress to act on that very issue.

The disconnect provides a good example of a problem I flagged in this post about the Des Moines Register’s political coverage. Ever since the Register closed its Washington bureau, Iowans are less likely to know what our representatives in Congress are doing on our behalf.  

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Steve King, Rod Blum vote against Patriot Act revision for opposite reasons

Yesterday the U.S. House approved the USA Freedom Act, which revises some provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act and extends them until December 2019. The Patriot Act is set to expire on June 1 without Congressional action. The main changes in the bill concern bulk data collection and domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Groups advocating for civil liberties are seeking more changes to the USA Freedom Act following a recent federal appeals court ruling, which “determined that the NSA’s telephone records program went far beyond what Congress authorized when it passed Section 215 of the Patriot Act in 2001.”

Proponents argue that the USA Freedom Act strikes a reasonable compromise between security and privacy. The overwhelming majority of House members agreed, as the bill passed by 338 votes to 88 (roll call). Representative David Young (IA-03) was among the 196 Republicans who voted yes, while Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was among the 142 Democratic supporters.

Forty-one Democrats and 47 Republicans, including Iowa’s Steve King (IA-04) and Rod Blum (IA-01), opposed the USA Freedom Act. In a statement I’ve enclosed in full below, King warned that the bill amounted to “data disarmament,” with too little weight given to “the investigative value” of information gathered through bulk collection techniques, or how to protect “the vital data we need for national security.”

In a Twitter post yesterday, Blum said he voted against the bill “because it continues the violation of the 4th Amendment rights of American citizens.” In a Facebook post, Blum added, ” Protecting your constitutional right to privacy is one of my top priorities, and I will continue to stand strong for the Fourth Amendment in Congress. I think America can be secure WITHOUT sacrificing our civil liberties.” I am seeking a more extensive comment and will update this post if I receive one. Blum has long aligned himself with the Iowa GOP’s “Liberty” wing.

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NSA Amendment Fails

(Another post is coming later with more details on how Iowans voted on other amendments to the defense appropriations bill. All four Iowans voted for final passage of the Pentagon budget. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Earlier this evening, the U.S. House tried to limit the scope of the NSA's domestic spying, but this amendment failed by 205-217.  It was an unusual cross-party vote, with Democrats voting 111-83, and Republians voting 94-134.  (Here is the full roll call vote).

Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted Yes (to restrict the NSA), while Steve King and Tom Latham voted No.  I haven't been able to find any more detailed statements from any of Iowa's congressmen.

Does anyone know where the 1st district candidates stand on this issue?  It would be a good debate topic.

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Harkin, Grassley react to leaks on NSA surveillance

To my knowledge, none of Iowa’s representatives in Congress has issued an official statement on the recent revelations about broad surveillance of phone and electronic communications by the National Security Agency. However, both Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley have commented to the media about the story. Notably, Harkin expressed concern about the scope of intelligence gathering and called for President Barack Obama to give better guidance. In contrast to his image as a supporter of whistle-blowers, Grassley has expressed more interest in prosecuting Edward Snowden (the source of the leaks) than in investigating the NSA’s activities. Details are after the jump.

On a related note, here is a must-read post for anyone comforted by the president’s comments last week (“nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about”). Sociology professor Kieran Healy pretends to be a security analyst for the King of England in 1772, a period of growing political unrest in the American Colonies. Using “metadata” analysis only–that is, looking at social connections with no information about the content of people’s conversations or writings–Healy was able to identify Paul Revere as a prime suspect in activities disloyal to the crown.

But I say again, if a mere scribe such as I-one who knows nearly nothing-can use the very simplest of these methods to pick the name of a traitor like Paul Revere from those of two hundred and fifty four other men, using nothing but a list of memberships and a portable calculating engine, then just think what weapons we might wield in the defense of liberty one or two centuries from now.

Hat tip to Nathan Yau at Flowing Data.

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