While civil liberties activists are outraged, the public and Congress do not appear overly concerned with President Obama‘s embrace of controversial national security surveillance programs, as polls have not shown a backlash against the president and Congress has already started to move on to other issues, such as immigration reform.
A poll done jointly by the Pew Research Center and the Washington Post released this week showed 56 percent of Americans supported tracking phone calls in an attempt to prevent terrorism, while only 41 percent disapproved.
A CBS News poll had different results, with 58 percent saying they disapproved of the government collecting the phone records of “ordinary Americans,” while only 38 percent approved.
But there is little sign that the issue has galvanized either the political left or the right in the way that the debate over “Obamacare” fired up conservatives in 2009 or President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina a few years earlier angered liberals.
And on Capitol Hill, despite some criticism of the programs by senators such as Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), there is little momentum to change either the Patriot Act or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the provisions under which the Obama administration authorized programs to collect the data from phone calls and investigate foreigners’ uses of Facebook and other Internet programs.
Numerous members in both parties have instead strongly defended the programs, even Republicans who are normally against anything President Obama supports. There have been almost no calls for key members of the president’s team to step down because of the programs, a notable fact because congressmen often urge resignations from Obama administration officials as a way to illustrate their frustration with Obama.
Even more limited measures to limit the so-called PRISM program or the collection of “metadata” from phone calls seem unlikely to pass. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, told The Hill a push by Wyden and other Democrats to declassify the opinions of the FISA courts on the programs is ” ill-fated,” even as Durbin himself supports such legislation.
Instead, the Senate on Tuesday started work on an immigration bill President Obama has championed.
With little need to comment on the issue, President Obama has stayed away from it. His spokesman, Jay Carney, has largely refused to even speak Snowden’s name at his daily press conferences, pointedly avoiding the debate over whether Snowden should be considered a traitor or a hero.
Obama himself spoke about immigration on Tuesday and will spend Wednesday campaigning in Massachusetts with Rep. Ed Markey, who is running for the U.S. Senate there.