Why Are These Democrats Supporting Trump’s Unconstitutional Spying on American Citizens?

Representative Adam Schiff of Los Angeles (CA-28) has argued that Donald Trump is “the worst president in modern history” and a threat to American democracy. But that didn’t stop him from voting yesterday to reauthorize Trump’s mammoth, unaccountable surveillance apparatus. Or from lobbying his colleagues to do so as well.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Amendments Act was set to expire later this month. And whereas Congress has dawdled on CHIP reauthorization, Section 702 reauthorization came easily.

Why? Because surveillance remains bipartisan. War, surveillance, and corporate-written trade deals — all key components of American imperial power —unfortunately attract broad support from both parties.

Section 702 allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect Americans’ communications with people overseas, without a warrant, as long as the NSA is “targeting” the foreigners involved. The NSA has yet to disclose how many Americans have been swept up in its searches, and there are no safeguards to make sure it is not targeting American citizens.

Justin Amash (MI-03) and Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), backed by the strange bedfellows coalition of civil libertarians that spans the right wing of the Republican Party and the left wing of the Democratic Party, offered the USA Rights Act as an amendment to the reauthorization bill. The USA Rights Act, introduced into Congress last fall, would end warrantless searches of American’s communications, provide greater transparency, and improve judicial oversight.

The amendment failed 183 to 233. 125 Democrats and 58 Republicans voted for it, and 178 Republicans 55 Democrats voted against it. If half of those Democrats had flipped their votes and voted for it, it would have passed.

Here are the 55 Democrats who voted against curbing Trump’s unaccountable surveillance powers:

Note that this list includes Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, as well as Senate candidates Jacky Rosen and Kyrsten Sinema. It also includes representatives like Adam Schiff, known for doing media rounds about Trump’s shady connections with Russian oligarchs and abuses and misuses of power. But when it comes to surveillance, Schiff is fine with giving Trump more power to abuse and misuse.

Despite Pelosi’s liberal reputation, her support for the surveillance state should come as no surprise, given that she whipped her colleagues against a similar NSA reform in the summer of 2013. Originally an opponent of the USA PATRIOT Act, she has come to love the surveillance state.

The vote on the final bill was 256 to 164. 191 Republicans and 65 Democrats voted for it, and 119 Democrats and 49 Republicans voted against it.

In other words, there were some Democrats who voted for the reform amendment but then, seeing it fail, decided to vote for the final bill anyway.

16 Democrats did just that:

These 16 Democrats, including media darling Seth Moulton, also want to see Trump have unaccountable spying powers.

And then six Democrats did the opposite: they voted against the reform amendment but then voted against the final bill, too: Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Elizabeth Esty (CT-05), Marcy Katpur (OH-09), Denny Heck (WA-10), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), and Pete Visclosky (IN-01).

The bill then moved to the Senate, where it will be debated and then passed early next week.

Yesterday’s motion to proceed passed easily 68–27. 42 Republicans and 26 Democrats voted for it, and 22 Democrats and 5 Republicans voted against it. Note that, due to absences, there were more Democrats (48) then Republicans (47) in the chamber when this passed.

Here are the 26 Democrats who sided with Trump:

Donald Trump is in many ways a frightening president given his virulent racism and his hostility to basic democratic and constitutional norms. The last thing that he needs is a more robust surveillance state.

Looking out to the elections this fall, Democrats will have to show that they are a true alternative to Trump and a credible check on his power. The behavior of the House Democratic Leadership shows they haven’t gotten the memo.