Amash stands guard against Patriot Act

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Most of Congress took a break this week. Not U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from west Michigan.

Amash stood watch over a House empty of most representatives to guard against the possibility that the leadership would renew controversial surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act while members were away.

Since 2006, the National Security Agency has relied on the law to justify the bulk collection of data on Americans’ phone calls. The applicable Patriot Act provisions expire at Sunday midnight.

“I’ve been here along with a few of my colleagues as a backstop, so we’ll be there to block anything that would violate the rights of Americans,” Amash said Friday.

During brief formality sessions, Amash led the Pledge of Allegiance Tuesday and stood with Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, to recite the pledge again Friday. On Wednesday, he tweeted: “Defending liberty in Congress can feel lonely at times.”

The office of Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has said no votes would occur during the Memorial Day recess.

“The House has passed its bill. We are waiting on the Senate to act,” a Boehner spokesman said Friday.

Those assurances didn’t convince Amash, who said the situation is “highly unpredictable” with the Senate set to return Sunday a few hours before the Patriot Act provisions expire.

Fifty-nine House members signed a May 20 letter by Amash and Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, to Senate leaders urging them to reject the House-passed USA Freedom Act, saying it fails to sufficiently reform surveillance practices or address privacy concerns. Indeed, it would codify the practices that so many privacy advocates condemn, Amash says.

Supporters said the new legislation has sufficient safeguards while giving America’s intelligence agencies key tools to fight terrorism.

The Senate adjourned a week ago without mustering the votes for the Freedom Act or a two-month extension of the Patriot Act.

Typically, little legislative business is conducted in the short procedural sessions during recess, though it’s possible for House leaders to pass bills by a voice vote or the parliamentary procedure known as unanimous consent.

“The speaker has said he would not move anything under unanimous consent or a voice vote, but there are a lot of pressures on the speaker – from the Senate, from the intelligence committees, from the intelligence community, from the White House,” Amash said. “We’ve had bills passed in an empty chamber before.”

Amash made at least one trip home to Michigan during recess Thursday to present the Purple Heart medal for wounds suffered in Vietnam War combat to a constituent, Daniel Vander Molen.

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