The agenda consisted of a single topic, perhaps the only one that would bring together such ideologically divergent politicians in Washington at this moment: their shared disdain for the PATRIOT Act.
With key provisions of the controversial post-9/11 law set to expire at the end of the month, including authority for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, critics in both parties are preparing to strike. Among those on hand for the meeting were Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, a card-carrying ACLU member from the liberal mecca of Madison, Wisconsin, and GOP Rep. Thomas Massie, a tea party adherent from Kentucky.
Along with Pocan and Massie, the Thursday gathering drew Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The lawmakers, many of them privacy zealots with libertarian leanings, discussed the USA Freedom Act, bipartisan legislation that would rein in the bulk collection of telephone records and reauthorize expiring anti-terror surveillance provisions in the PATRIOT Act.
“We are definitely making it a bipartisan effort because we believe there are people on both sides of the aisle who are interested in protecting the rights of Americans,” Amash said.
Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans want changes that go beyond what’s currently on the table, but it’s unclear whether they have the numbers. Massie and Amash are key players in a growing conservative bloc of the Republican caucus that in the past has forced Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to alter legislation that didn’t pass conservative muster.
“People are going to have to make a decision if there are enough real reforms in there to make it worth reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act,” Massie said. “I don’t think the reforms are significant enough.”
“The onus is really on [Republican and Democratic leaders] to have something in place if this is going to run out and they need to reauthorize something,” the Republican added. “We’re trying to figure out how to get a better, stronger [bill] that protects privacy rights.”
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