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218: House Members Push for Open Debate on NSA Snooping

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Bipartisan House members are calling for an open debate when the House takes up legislation later this year dealing with a controversial National Security Agency intelligence gathering program.

Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., a longtime opponent of the NSA program, is gathering signatures on a letter that he plans to send to top House leaders asking that if a bill reauthorizing the program comes to the floor, it comes under an open rule, meaning any member can offer an amendment.

Holt told CQ Roll Call that because opposition to the NSA phone metadata program cuts across ideological, geographical and generational lines, a range of opinions should be debated, rather than just a few preselected amendments.

“What the government, acting through the NSA, has done is treat Americans as suspects first and citizens second,” he said of the program.

So far, Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas is the only Republican to sign the letter, according to Holt’s office, joining Reps. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who sits on the Rules Committee.

Farenthold said that when it comes to oversight of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, he has a different perspective than some of the national security hawks in his own party.

“I’m an old computer guy — been on the Internet since day one. I’ve kind of got a soft spot for freedom on the Internet,” he said.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., however, who may be the chairman of the Intelligence Committee next year, said he suspects members only want an open rule so they can demagogue the program and perhaps bring up amendments to end it outright.

“It sounds like a political stunt, not trying to improve the program,” he said. “You cannot do it that way under an open rule because it’s technical, it’s very technical. . . . There’s a reason we have an Intelligence Committee. . . . It’s because we don’t want to tell everybody what the capabilities are that we have.”

The letter is addressed to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. The leaders have been generally supportive of the NSA intelligence gathering program.

David Eldridge contributed to this report.

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