The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved the USA Liberty Act, a surveillance reform package introduced last month by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI). The bill is seen by many as the best option for reauthorizing and reforming Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which is set to expire in less than two months.
Some committee members described feeling forced to choose between supporting stronger surveillance reforms or advancing the Liberty Act, and voiced their frustration about provisions that only partly block the warrantless search of Americans’ communications when an amendment with broader surveillance reforms was introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX). Complicating their deliberations was the fact that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has already reported out a bill with far fewer surveillance protections.
Ranking Member Conyers reiterated the conundrum: “We have been assured in explicit terms that if we adopt this amendment today, leadership will not permit this bill to proceed to the house floor.”
He continued: “We have an opportunity to enact some meaningful reform. The alternative is no reform, and after all the work that we’ve put in, I don’t want this amendment to endanger the underlying legislation.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) summed up much of the internal conflict: “I rise in opposition to this amendment, though I wish I didn’t have to.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) also appeared frustrated with the situation: “I’ll put on record that I resent being held hostage by leadership that does not know the intensity of the work and the responsibilities of the judiciary committee.”
When asked to clarify her vote in advancing the USA Liberty Act, Jackson Lee said “I am perplexed, but will be working to join in moving the bill forward.”
Rep. Jordan (R-OH) spoke up, too: “We’re the Judiciary Committee, charged with one thing and one thing only: defend the Constitution. Respect the Constitution. Adhere to the amendments in that great document, particularly, today, the Fourth Amendment. This is a darned good amendment.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) also invoked his Constitutional duty: “Ultimately it’s important that we support the Constitution. That’s why we’re here. That’s the oath we took. I’m going to support the amendment.”
We appreciate the votes and the voices of Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Ted Deutch (D-FL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Conyers, Nadler, Jordan, Poe, Lofgren and Lieu.