The White House took the rare step of releasing a statement opposing an amendment to a House bill Tuesday night, taking aim at a measure that would shut down significant parts of the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities.
In the statement, White House spokesman Jay Carney accused Republican lawmakers of trying to “hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools” and said the “blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process.”
The House is preparing to vote on an amendment, written by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., that would cut off funds to the NSA if it collects data on individuals who are not under investigation — a move that would effectively shut down the sweeping Internet and phone data collection programs that have been revealed in news reports.
After hearing that the amendment would be given a vote as part of the Defense Appropriations bill Tuesday afternoon, the White House scrambled to try to defeat it. NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander headed up to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a question and answer session with lawmakers in a classified, members-only briefing.
“We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a seasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation,” Carney said.
Amash took to Twitter to respond to the White House statement, calling on supporters to contact their members of Congress and express their strong support of the measure.
“Pres Obama opposes my #NSA amendment, but American people overwhelmingly support it,” he tweeted. “Will your Rep stand with the WH or the Constitution?”
The White House decision to release the statement and send Alexander to Capitol Hill to try to quash one amendment of 100 the House is considering adding to the Defense spending bill demonstrates the premium Obama's national security team places on the surveillance program and its counterterrorism powers.
Amash also must overcome opposition from most members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, who say the program has helped them thwart multiple terrorist plots.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence panel, has vocally supported the program from attacks from those on the right concerned that the program violates constitutional civil liberty protections.
Leaders from the House and Senate Intelligence committees publicly denounced Amash's amendment Tuesday, and seven House committee chairmen wrote a letter to colleagues urging a “no” vote.
Still, Amash has plenty of support for his view among Republicans, as well as liberal Democrats who have criticized the NSA programs sweeping reach. He only won the right to offer the measure as an amendment on the House floor after he said he had enough support to prevent the Defense bill from moving to the floor by voting down a procedural measure.