This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Rep. Jim Matheson, the lone Democrat in the Utah congressional delegation, actually stood up for the Obama administration Wednesday. He voted against an amendment that would have seriously dialed back the so-called metadata collection program that, thanks to a rogue hacker now hiding in Russia, the American people actually know about.
Too bad. This was one vote where Matheson would actually have been better off going with the three Republicans from Utah, something he often does. Even if the Republicans' anti-snooping votes were just another example of knee-jerk opposition to anything President Obama did, favors, likes or just knows about, it was the right call.
Utah Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart backed the amendment that was offered by two congressmen from Michigan, young Republican Justin Amash and veteran Democrat John Conyers. It would make clear that the section of the Patriot Act that the administration and the National Security Agency have been using to justify their sweeps and storage of phone and Internet data is not meant to allow such snooping on people who are not suspected of a crime. You know, as the Bill of Rights requires. And as the Patriot Act was supposed to require, at least according to Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner, one of that law's primary authors.
The amendment failed on a close vote, 217-205. But it was not one of those party-line votes we've come to expect. Both parties were sharply split, with Republicans barely voting to support the Obama position and Democrats marginally opposing it. Except, in both cases, the votes from Utah.
The optimistic way to read this is that principle trumped partisanship for many representatives on both sides. The pessimistic way to see it is that the Republicans who run the House are still in the grip of the anti-terror panic that leads them to accept the word of an administration they are so eager to demean and distrust on just about every other issue.
When so many of the details and much of the program's history remain secret, when the super-secret court that rubber-stamped it is beyond anything resembling judicial review, when the man who made them public is on the run, and when those who even question the data-mining programs are accused of being soft on terror, it is hard for most people to know what to think.
But the Amash-Conyers amendment was a rightful expression of public frustration over a situation where the government knows all and allows us to know nothing. Many more legislative hurdles would have to be cleared before it really changed anything. It's too bad it didn't pass.