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Obama cannot 'have a blank check’ on NSA surveillance, Clyburn says

The House assistant Democratic leader said on Sunday that President Obama needed checks and balances on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) controversial telephone surveillance program. 

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During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he was comfortable with Obama’s recent attempts to improve the program following leaks about its existence from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

But Clyburn said he voted last month with Republicans to defund the NSA surveillance program because it required trusting more people than the president.

“The president spoke out on this issue long before Snowden," Clyburn said. "And I was very comfortable with the president's position on this. It's just that every now and then, you catch a vote in order to let your constituents know and for your colleagues to know exactly how you feel about situation, and sometimes, let the White House know that this is something that we cannot allow you to have just a blank check on."

Obama announced last week that he was planning to ask Congress to narrow and improve oversight of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to collect phone records, in response to criticism of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Obama also said he would ask Congress to carve out a role for civil libertarians in courts that give government agencies the warrants to grab data from private citizens and companies.

Clyburn said on Sunday that the changes would make him feel better about the surveillance program.

“Transparency is always very, very important," he said. "I think most American people want to be safe and secure in their homes and when they are carrying out their day to day activities. And so we want the president to do what is necessary to keep us safe.

"He's got a tremendous record in that regard, and I'm very proud of that record, but, all things don't start and stop at the president's desk," Clyburn continued. "As you go down the line -- as you know, we have a process in place that for some reason allow an Ed Snowden to exist and to get information. You want to be very, very careful in not just what the president doing, but with all of the hired hands may be doing when they're carrying out their duties and responsibilities."