Monday, July 28, 2014

Eric Cantor's loss is bad news for the NSA

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) Mark Wilson

Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Majority Leader who just suffered a surprise primary defeat, has butted heads with President Barack Obama on a wide variety of issues. But there's at least one issue where Cantor was a reliable Obama ally: NSA surveillance.

A year ago, when Edward Snowden released information demonstrating that the NSA had been collecting information about billions of US phone calls, some members of Congress from both parties lashed out at the NSA. Not Cantor. He defended the program, arguing that it was needed to fight terrorism.

In August, Tea Party Republican Justin Amash (R-MI), along with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), offered an amendment to a defense funding bill that would have shut down the NSA's controversial phone-records program. The amendment won the support of 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats, coming just a few votes short of passage. Cantor, like Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) voted no.

The man who just beat Cantor, Dave Brat, has taken a different tack on surveillance issues. In a recent interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he argued that "The NSA’s indiscriminate collection of data on all Americans is a disturbing violation of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy." On his website, Brat says he favors "the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA."

If Brat takes Cantor's seat, it will shift the Republican Party a bit more toward the Amash position on surveillance issues. That's significant because Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the government has cited to justify its phone records program, will come up for renewal next year. With more Republicans like Brat and Amash in Congress, that could be a tough sell.

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