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Texas delegation splits on warrantless N.S.A. spying

While the 36 Texans in the U.S. House largely voted along party lines to reauthorize a key NSA surveillance program, some Republican voted against it and two Democrats voted for it.

(Left - right) U.S. Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; Ted Poe, R-Humble; Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land; Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands; Joe Barton, R-Ennis; Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston; Al Green, D-Houston; Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock; John Culberson, R-Houston; Brian Babin, R-Woodville; Gene Green, D-Houston; and Vicente González, D-McAllen, hold a press conference following the passage of a tax relief package for those affected by recent hurricanes.

In a rare vote that did not follow Texas delegation party lines, the U.S. House passed a measure on Thursday that will reauthorize the collection of foreign surveillance within the United States for another six years. 

The legislation will extend the government's capacity to collect the correspondence of foreign targets from American cell phone and technology companies without a warrant, including when an American is involved in the conversation.

Republicans mostly backed the measure and Democrats largely opposed it. But many members crossed party lines as those from both ends of the political spectrum have raised privacy concerns about domestic surveillance.

Some libertarian-minded Texas Republicans voted against it – including U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess of Lewisville, Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Ted Poe of Humble, Randy Weber of Friendswood and Roger Williams of Austin. 

On the Democratic side, U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth voted with Republicans to pass the measure, as did Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. 

In the larger body, the measure passed 256 to 164. 

There was serious question earlier in the day over whether the measure would pass at all after President Donald Trump tweeted critically on the policy Thursday morning. He then pulled back an hour and a half later with a subsequent tweet urging lawmakers to reauthorize the program after reportedly speaking with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. 

The legislation still needs to pass the Senate. 

In a post on Facebook, Poe described the measure as “a flawed reauthorization bill that contains virtually no reforms, violates Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, and approves warrantless surveillance of our very own citizens.”

Cuellar said the program is an important tool for tracking potential terrorists.

“I have been a consistent advocate for a strong national defense, and that includes our ability to stop terrorists before they attack,” Cuellar said. “This bill protects our civil liberties without hindering the ability of our intelligence community to monitor terror suspects, analyzes collected data, and, most importantly, keeps us safe.”

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