As you might have heard, the House narrowly (217-205) defeated an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have pretty much killed off the NSA’s telephone data sweeps. It was opposed by the White House and by the top House leaders of both parties. Its chief sponsors were the fiery young Republican dissident Jason Amash of Michigan and the veteran ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, but Amash was very much the front man. And it created the sort of bipartisan coalitions in support and opposition that are a rarity these days. Supporter Raul Labrador (R-ID) called supporters (including himself) the “Wing Nut Coalition,” which certainly identifies the legislation as Tea-centric.
If you look a little more closely, though, the splits are not entirely congruent or predictable. Democrats favored the amendment 111-83 and Republican opposed it 94-134. By my rough count, the House Tea Party Caucus only favored it by a narrow 27-21 margin, with some of its most prominent leaders—e.g., founder and chairman Michele Bachmann and Steve King—opposing it.
I think it’s reasonably clear that Democrats would have supported this amendment in much larger numbers if there was not a Democratic administration opposing it. Is the reverse true of Republicans? That’s a bit less clear. But there is little question that if there is any significant division of opinion within the conservative movement and its wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican Party, these days, it’s not about abortion or taxes or even immigration: it’s about national security. There are obviously still a decent number of neocons who will support almost any initiative that wears a uniform. But I certainly haven’t figured out any consistent principle—with the exception of prior relationships with Ron or Rand Paul—that makes it possible to predict which fire-eating Tea Party conservative these days is frothing for an immediate war with Iran and perhaps domestic profiling of Muslims, and which is worried about excessive overseas commitments or domestic surveillance. The fault lines bear watching in the future.
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