By Julian Pecquet - 07/25/13 01:22 AM EDT
Nearly half the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to rein in America's spy agency but left out of the picture the 30-year-old leaker who made it all possible.
Lawmakers of both parties say the U.S. public has the right to know their government is collecting their phone and email records, and even President Obama has said he welcomes the debate. Edward Snowden, however, remains anathema on Capitol Hill, accused of breaking the law and betraying his country.
“I don't think anybody [on Capitol Hill] is going to go out on a limb to defend him,” said Progressive Caucus Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who was among the 205 Democrats and Republicans who voted to ban the National Security Agency from collecting phone records on the general public. “I think most people — and I include myself — would rather rectify what he pointed out.”
Lawmakers say Snowden has himself to blame for that lack of support.
All are furious that he has embarrassed the United States by fleeing to repressive countries, China then Russia, before publicly seeking asylum in left-wing nations that have long opposed the United States.
“It's complicated,” said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), also a "yes" vote. “He broke the law and rather than face the consequences, he's left the country, and now he's hiding in Russia, where there's no free press, where there's no free anything, where Putin is cracking down on human rights defenders every day. It's not a clear-cut story.”
“The stuff that we're debating here, whether it would have come out without him, who knows. But the bottom line is, it's out, and people are very concerned about it – myself included.”
It's a refrain heard on both sides of the aisle.
“Snowden, I don’t like him at all,” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said at a Judiciary Committee hearing last week. “But we would have never known what happened if he hadn’t told us.”
Poe also voted in favor of Rep. Justin Amash's (R-Mich.) amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) made the same point during a speech Tuesday at the liberal Center for American Progress, where he only mentioned Snowden once.
“It’s been two months since the disclosures by Mr. Snowden, and [U.S. senators who are demanding public answers from the director of National Intelligence] have made it clear they are not going to accept more stonewalling or misleading statements,” Wyden said. “It is another step, as I've outlined, in the march to a real debate. We wouldn't have had that seven, eight weeks ago.”
Some aren't sure whether Snowden is really guilty of a crime at all. He has been charged with espionage for his revelations.
“That has yet to be determined whether or not Snowden has released information that aids our enemies or just informs our people,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subpanel on emerging threats and also a "yes" vote. “If he was doing something that aids our enemies, I'd be more upset about it.”
But Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the oversight panel and another "yes" vote, said Snowden must come home and face the music if he wants to be rehabilitated.
“If you have been charged with a crime, you ought to face the charges,” the former lawyer told The Hill. “No matter how sympathetic people may be to his cause and what he did, he has allegedly violated the law. And we are a society that maintains our structure by way of the law.”
Grijalva said Snowden might get off easy.
“I believe he could,” he said. “I believe there's a good deal of support for what he did.”
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