While political pundits across Washington are already sounding the death knell for immigration reform over Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising Virginia primary loss to tea party opponent Dave Brat, little mention has been made of its influence on another major Congressional reform effort — National Security Agency spying.
As the first leaks of classified NSA bulk surveillance programs rocked Capitol Hill last summer, Cantor voted against legislation that would have significantly reigned in the signals intelligence agency’s ability sweep up phone metadata on Americans – a vote that came much closer to passage than anyone expected according to a Washington Post report.
Instead the majority leader favored a weak bill from the House Intelligence Committee that would have actually broadened the agency’s surveillance authority, and eventually brought to the floor and voted for a “gutted” version of what was previously the most sweeping reform to go before Congress yet.
Brat meanwhile asserted during his campaign that the government has “spun out of control” in regard to surveillance and called for an end to bulk telephone record collection, along with a need for greater protections over email communications, according to the Post.
“The NSA’s indiscriminate collection of data on all Americans is a disturbing violation of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Snowden shed light on the violations of our privacy, and we must guard against intrusion on our constitutional rights,” Brat said in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week.
The tea party upstart appreciates the value of Snowden’s disclosures for highlighting the institutional failures of sacrificing Americans’ privacy in the name of security, but still believes the leaker should stand trial for breaking the law.
“If Snowden gave sensitive U.S. intelligence information to Russia’s — or any other — foreign government, then he’s a traitor by definition. Even if he did not, passing the stolen information straight to the media is a violation of the law, and he should face trial for that,” Brat said.
“Thus it is crucial that we bring Snowden to justice under our system of laws as we require our justice system to account for its own institutional and constitutional failings. Americans must remain always vigilant in the fight for freedom.”
Brat’s nuanced approach to the issue puts him in a positive light among conservative camps divided over Snowden and NSA, and comes across clearer than the often contradictory statements and actions of other lawmakers on Capitol Hill made in the wake of the ongoing leaks.
If Brat goes on to win Virginia’s 7th District seat in the November mid-term election, he’s much more likely to stand with other popular tea party Republicans like Rand Paul on state surveillance issues in Congress.