Members of the US Senate sit down to a bipartisan caucus in the Old Senate Chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, January 4, 2007. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
If Congress during the Obama era is marked by one thing, it’s partisan gridlock: a constant parade of crisis showdowns, filibusters, and partisan votes—like when every Republican in the House and all but three in the Senate voted against the stimulus package one month into Obama’s term.
So what happened Wednesday night in the House—and why it happened—is worth thinking about for a while before the news machine zooms past.
Representatives Justin Amash and John Conyers created an amendment to a big defense appropriations bill, which used targeted language to defund the bulk collection of data by the National Security Agency. This was the practice disclosed by Edward Snowden and The Guardian in early June. Amash managed to get the amendment to the House floor.
Politico suggests House leadership allowed a vote because they were sure it couldn’t pass—though that seems like a contestable assumption. The administration seemed quite worried that it would: NSA director Keith Alexander was immediately dispatched to the Hill to lobby members against the amendment.
The White House also released a veto threat on the same day, a somewhat unusual move for a single amendment that supposedly had no chance of passing. The White House declared, “This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.”
The debate on the House floor late Wednesday, however, was remarkable for how open and deliberative it was: except a couple September 11 references and warnings of “Islamic jihad,” the debate was respectful, well-informed and broadcast on C-SPAN as much of official Washington watched, transfixed.