Boehner defends NSA surveillance vote

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday explained his decision to allow a vote on an NSA amendment he strongly opposed, saying he felt “very strongly that Congress couldn’t just avoid the debate” over the government’s surveillance programs.

The House on Wednesday narrowly defeated a measure by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have curtailed the National Security Agency’s spying activities, as Boehner cast a rare vote against it.

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“I voted last night because these NSA programs have helped keep Americans safe,” Boehner said. “There are, in my view, ample safeguards to protect the privacy of the American people. And I know how these programs have worked. I know how they’ve worked to protect the American people, and I felt very strongly about it.”

Boehner also held up the 205-217 vote as an example of his stewardship of the House, where he has vowed to allow the chamber to “work its will.”

“I also felt very strongly that Congress couldn’t just avoid the debate,” he said. “Members wanted to have this debate. You all know I believe in a more open process, and I wanted the House to have this debate. We did. The amendment was defeated. I’m proud of my colleagues who stood up for what I think they believe was a program that really is working to help protect the American people.”

The amendment split both Republicans and Democrats, creating an unusual instance in which Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and archconservative Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) all voted together in opposition.

While the measure failed, Boehner’s office blamed the White House for allowing it to come so close to passing.

The vote was “closer than it should have been,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. “That’s because the president continues to demonstrate a troubling reluctance to sufficiently defend this program. Like it or not, it is the president’s responsibility to explain — regularly and repeatedly if needed — the program’s focus, scope and necessity to the American people.

“Hopefully this vote will serve as a wake-up call to the White House,” Buck added in an email to reporters. “Hopefully the president will now consider making a real, consistent effort to explain what would be at risk if this type of national security program went away. This is an obligation the president has and one only he can fulfill.”