Competing whip operations are heating up as the House prepares to vote on a National Security Agency amendment that has resulted in what one aide described as a “Michigan dog fight.”
Rep. Justin Amash, the sponsor of a defense appropriations amendment that would defund the NSA’s blanket collection of telephone records, is squaring off against fellow Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee and fierce opponent of the Amash amendment.
Amash and Rogers are familiar rivals; both were once staring at a potentially bitter primary race for Michigan’s open Senate seat before Rogers announced he would not run.
With GOP leadership maintaining it doesn’t whip for or against amendments, Rogers has stepped up as the major voice against the Amash offering.
Rogers has been using his position as chairman of the Intelligence Committee — and the access to the classified information that such a position affords — to argue that the NSA data collection program is needed.
He has pushed a number of emails to members in opposition to the amendment, including an open letter from former attorneys general, a Wall Street Journal op-ed, a Heritage Foundation letter, a letter with Intelligence ranking member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and a "Dear Colleague" letter from Rogers and other committee chairmen urging members to vote against the amendment.
"While many Members have legitimate questions about the NSA metadata program, including whether there are sufficient protections for Americans' civil liberties, eliminating this program altogether without careful deliberation would not reflect our duty, under Article I of the Constitution, to provide for the common defense,” reads a letter from six House committee chairmen and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman, C.W. Bill Young of Florida.
Rogers has been meeting with members personally to discuss the amendment and he has invited members to the classified Intelligence space in the Capitol Visitor Center to be briefed on the subject. On Tuesday, the head of the NSA, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, came to the Hill to conduct classified, members-only briefings.
Although leadership says it is not getting into the Amash amendment debate, and while there has not been a formal whip check, one Republican aide said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has been doing an informal count, inquiring which way certain members are leaning.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and McCarthy are united against the Amash amendment.
Amash, for his part, has been actively seeking supporters, telling CQ Roll Call on Tuesday morning that he thinks the amendment “has the votes to pass."
On Wednesday, Amash issued a “fact sheet” detailing what the amendment does and dispelling rumors that have been floating around about the amendment.
He may have some help from the Democrats.
Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., also of Michigan, has been leading the charge on the Democratic side to find votes for the amendment, along with Jared Polis of Colorado, Jerrold Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California.
Aides theorize that while many are still undecided and the situation could drastically change, 30 or 40 Democrats will vote for the Amash amendment.
Aides also say Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., are both against the amendment, but, as is almost always the case, the Democrats will not whip against an amendment and leaders will urge the caucus to vote its conscience.
Even if the amendment is rejected, which seems to be the increasingly likely scenario, aides say Amash — and, indeed, Congress — has made its point.
“Regardless of whether we have enough votes to put this over the top, it is important to have this discussion and signal to the administration that questions about mass surveillance will not go away,” said one Democratic aide familiar with the issue.