If you live in Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s district like I do, and your town (such as Newton and Easton) has a Patch site, you may have noticed that on Thursday, Kennedy partook in an online chat on Patch. I was pleased to see that a number of users were upset with his No vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment and wanted an explanation.
“There is no doubt these programs need better oversight, transparency and accountability,” Kennedy replied, “and I hope to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address those issues.” Later, he continued in this generalized vein, and suggested, “One option there is to give more authority to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.”
Amash-Conyers was one such chance to address these issues. It would have defunded one particular NSA program: the mass, indiscriminate collection of Americans’ phone records. Why did Kennedy vote against it?
“I believe these reforms must be pursued deliberately and thoughtfully,” he wrote on Patch. “We have started a robust public discussion which absolutely should continue here in Congress. But spending just 15 minutes of debate on a six line amdendment that cuts funding for a program that intelligence officials say has stopped dozens of potential terrorist attacks on U.S. soil seems premature – even dangerous.”
Thus did his boilerplate and moderate commitment to reform give way to fearmongering, trust in the establishment, and distortion of the critics. The NSA spying scandal has been at the forefront for a lot longer than 15 minutes. It has long been clear that Congress needs to reign them in.
I have a right to privacy, and I expect my politicians to defend it. They should not condone when the government runs a secret, unaccountable surveillance apparatus that spies on my correspondence.
Moreover, Kennedy’s deference and trust is unwarranted. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress about what the NSA is doing, and it’s been learned that in 2011, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled some of the NSA programs to be illegal. The Obama administration, in its fight against Amash-Conyers, simply argued in bad faith. It had the chutzpah to criticize the amendment as hasty, and claim, “This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.” That uninformed, closed, hasty process apparently being Congress debating and voting on a program, the same that the Obama admin kept secret for years.
For Kennedy to follow White House talking points, and heed the direst claims of intelligence officials, is to put his trust in people who deserve skepticism instead–people who built programs to spy on us without our knowledge or consent, then lied to Congress about it.
Every other Mass congressperson recognized Amash-Conyers as a vital step to take. Joining a diverse bipartisan groundswell, they all voted for the amendment. That’s right, Kennedy refused to support an amendment that even Stephen Lynch voted for!
In a previous thread, jconway speculated that Kennedy made this vote with an eye to become “a Washington player” and stoke future ambition. My own take is that Kennedy was instead being naive and deferential to the White House.
Perhaps we can call this a rookie mistake, albeit a big one. Ironically, right-wing sophomore congressman Justin Amash is less than a year older than Kennedy but he’s been kicking butt on this issue. Elizabeth Warren has been in Congress no longer than Kennedy, but she participated in the pushback against the NSA, joining 25 senators to write a letter to Clapper insisting on more information about NSA surveillance.
Even at this stage in his tenure, the actions Kennedy takes are forming his identity and showing his constituents what kind of congressman he is. In the form of Amash-Conyers, an opportunity arose in Congress for Kennedy to do something to curtail the NSA’s excesses. He didn’t.
Goodwill towards his father and great uncle can only carry him so far. Sooner or later, he needs to demonstrate a defence of our right to privacy. How will he do that, and when?