House GOP critics of NSA spying keep watch in empty chamber

House GOP critics of NSA spying keep watch in empty chamber
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Civil-libertarian-minded House lawmakers aren’t resting in their watch to prevent any quick deals on the Patriot Act during this week's recess.

Reps. Justin AmashJustin AmashThe real winner of the 2018 midterms: individual liberty Scarborough rips Graham for saying he’ll introduce legislation to end birthright citizenship: He’s ‘degrading’ himself for Trump GOP lawmaker: Trump 'cannot amend Constitution or laws via executive order' MORE (R-Mich.) and Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieThe real winner of the 2018 midterms: individual liberty How Republicans who voted against ObamaCare repeal fared in midterms Trump deals with Saudis may be worth much less than 0 billion MORE (R-Ky.) were on hand at a pro forma House session that lasted less than three minutes Friday morning to ensure that GOP leaders didn’t extend expiring portions of the law without their consent.

Massie led the mostly empty chamber in the Pledge of Allegiance, but the lawmakers were otherwise only observers.

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The two Republicans — both critics of the National Security Agency (NSA) who have tried to blunt its power — made the unusual appearance while most of their colleagues are in their districts for the weeklong Memorial Day recess.

Amash also attended the previous pro forma House session Tuesday afternoon. 

House leadership aides have insisted that they have no intention of slipping through a temporary extension of the three expiring Patriot Act provisions this week, even as the Senate nears the brink of unintentionally killing them off.

Lawmakers close to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) could bring a short-term extension up for a voice vote during the brief and usually uneventful sessions and enact it as long as there were no objections. The move would surely lead to an insurrection in the chamber, however, after lawmakers voted 338-88 to renew the laws in exchange for curbing the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. phone data.

The presence of both Amash and Massie signals a lingering distrust with the GOP leadership in the fight over government surveillance. Both lawmakers had attempted to introduce amendments to the House bill — called the USA Freedom Act ­— but were blocked by GOP leaders who feared that it would upset the legislation’s negotiated balance. 

Both Massie and Amash were present during the Senate’s frenzied voting on measures to reform or renew the Patriot Act provisions during the wee hours of Saturday morning. The two stood to the side of the Senate chamber, but could be seen huddling with likeminded Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). 

The Senate is due back on Sunday afternoon to work on the Patriot Act measures, hours before the legal provisions are set to expire at midnight.