WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration squared off with skeptical lawmakers Tuesday over efforts to terminate the government’s authority to collect phone records of millions of Americans, a proposition that exposed sharp divisions among members of Congress.
With a vote nearing on amendments to a $598.3 million bill to fund the military, the White House raised the alarm over a move to end the National Security Agency’s authority under the USA Patriot Act, preventing the secretive surveillance agency from collecting records unless an individual is under investigation.
And in in an unusual, last-minute lobbying move, the administration dispatched Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to oppose the amendment in separate, closed-door sessions with Republicans and Democrats.
“We oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a late-night statement. “This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process.”
Carney said President Barack Obama is still open to discussing the balance between security and privacy with Americans and Congress in the wake of documents leaked last month by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden that revealed that the vast nature of the agency’s phone and Internet surveillance. But he said Obama wants an approach that properly weighs what intelligence tools best keep America safe.
Tea party conservatives and liberal Democrats have backed the amendment, which dovetails with another to cut off funds for the NSA. Both measures drew criticism from the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who argued that the surveillance programs have helped disrupt numerous attempted terrorist attacks.
The House is likely to vote on the amendments Wednesday.
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