WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration squared off with skeptical lawmakers Tuesday over efforts to terminate the government's authority to collect phone records of millions of Americans, a proposition that exposed sharp divisions among members of Congress.
With a vote nearing on amendments to a $598.3 million bill to fund the military, the White House raised the alarm over a move to end the National Security Agency's authority under the USA Patriot Act, preventing the secretive surveillance agency from collecting records unless an individual is under investigation.
And in an unusual, last-minute lobbying move, Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, traveled to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to oppose the amendment in separate, closed-door sessions with Republicans and Democrats.
"We oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community's counterterrorism tools," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a late-night statement. "This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process."
Carney said President Barack Obama is still open to addressing privacy concerns in the wake of documents leaked last month by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden that revealed that the vast nature of the agency's phone and Internet surveillance. But he said Obama wants an approach that properly weighs what intelligence tools best keep America safe.
In another sign the White House was treating the measure with serious concern, its rebuke came directly from the press secretary, rather than the more routine notices from Obama's budget office the White House normally uses to weigh in on pending legislation.
The proposal offered by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., dovetails with another amendment to the defense bill to cut off funds for the NSA. The House is likely to vote on the amendments Wednesday.