Thursday, May 28, 2015

Who Will Watch The Watchmen? Justin Amash, Rand Paul, And Thomas Massie

Amash C-SPAN
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Rep. Justin Amash leads an empty House in the Pledge earlier this week as he watches out for a sneaky NSA spying extension

 By Brandon Hall
(Email him at

After Congressman Thomas Massie noticed shady voice votes leading to the passage of unpopular bills while virtually no members of Congress were even on the floor, he figured out a way to stop it: as soon as the Speaker called for a voice vote, he shot out like a cannon from his House office onto the House floor to stop the shenanigans.

Worried about Speaker Boehner utilizing one of these voice votes to push through an extension of  NSA spying via the "Patriot Act" is what brings Congressman Justin Amash to the floor this week. He also spent the Memorial Day weekend there. The controversial, Orwellian program which spies on Americans has been deemed illegal by multiple courts. Senator Rand Paul has vowed to filibuster the renewal when the Senate reconvenes this Sunday at 5 p.m.

According to Andrew Krietz of MLive:

"The Hill reports aides to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other leaders have said they won't sneak through any sort of extension while most lawmakers are out of town, but Amash and other privacy-minded colleagues don't give those assurances any weight.

"We're just keeping an eye on the House," Amash told reporters Tuesday. "Promises have been made in the past and we've seen promises broken." He quoted former President Ronald Reagan on Twitter: "Trust, but verify."

Two weeks ago, House lawmakers passed the USA Freedom Act, written to end the NSA's collection of phone records but still gives the agency authority to request records associated with a case. Amash supported an earlier version of the bill that ended its programs.

He voted no on the newest version and joined 59 other House lawmakers on a letter addressed to Senate leadership that called upon them to address their concerns. Senate members failed to pass the USA Freedom Act on Friday, and now pressure continues to build upon Congress to act before the Patriot Act's June 1 deadline."

Rep. Thomas Massie

So, what happened with Massie?

"There’s two reasons Congress loves the voice vote: the first is that because there’s no record of who voted, they can’t be held accountable when the bill passes.

The second reason is that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has sole discretion to decide if there is a “quorum” (218 congressmen) present in the room sufficient to take a voice vote. Massie says frequently there’s only ten congressmen present. All Boehner has to do is squint and say that there’s a quorum present and he may hold a voice vote.

As long as no one requests a recorded vote, Boehner is free to do this. That’s where Massie’s 500-yard sprint comes in.

Massie says he’s discovered that "it’s about a 500-yard dash between my office and the floor of the House." So, when Boehner starts to do voice votes, Massie sprints to the House floor and demands a recorded vote. That means there has to be a real quorum: 218 live people on the record with their votes. Several unpopular bills have died as a result of Massie’s dash.

Passing bills without recording votes, and without Congressmen present, frustrates the democratic process, and “it happens way too often,” said Massie. “It only takes one congressman to stand up and say ‘Mr. Speaker, I request a recorded vote’… and I’ve done that a lot,” Massie said, to laughter from the Young Americans for Liberty students."

Things should get interesting Sunday...Stay tuned!


Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.
>>>Email him at 

Photo By Darlene Dowling Thompson

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