Republicans Use ‘Closed Rule’ to Pass Extension of Patriot Act Abuses

February 10th, 2011 - by admin

aul Kane and Felicia Sonmez / Washington Post – 2011-02-10 11:41:41

Patriot Act Extension Fails in the House by Seven Votes
Paul Kane and Felicia Sonmez / Washington Post

WASHINGTON (February 8, 2011) — House Republicans suffered an embarrassing setback Tuesday when they fell seven votes short of extending provisions of the Patriot Act, a vote that served as the first small uprising of the party’s tea-party bloc.

The bill to reauthorize key parts of the counter-terrorism surveillance law, which expire at the end of the month, required a super-majority to pass under special rules reserved for non-controversial measures.

But it fell short of the required two-thirds after 26 Republicans bucked their leadership, eight of them freshman lawmakers elected in November’s midterm elections. With most Democrats opposing the extension, the final tally was 277 members in favor of extension, and 148 opposed.

The Republicans who control the House made plans to bring the measure back for a quick vote later this month under normal rules, requiring only a simple majority for passage. They blamed House Democrats for the bill’s downfall, noting that they provided the lion’s share of votes against a bill that President Obama supports.

The vote was the latest signal, though, that on certain matters House leaders could face a sizable resistance to compromise from within their own ranks, both from the 87 GOP freshmen and from conservative veterans who have been emboldened by the newcomers.

Earlier Tuesday, House Republicans pulled a bill to extend assistance to workers who lose jobs due to competition from imports. Conservatives had complained that the bill would put the federal government too squarely into the private economy.

And leaders of the Appropriations Committee heard complaints Tuesday from fellow Republicans on the panel that their bill to slash at least $32 billion in fiscal year 2011 spending was insufficient.

The Patriot Act measure would have extended through the end of the year three provisions that are set to expire Feb. 28. One authorizes the FBI to use roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access “any tangible items,” such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and the third allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

Democrats hailed the day’s events under a press release from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office asking a simple question: “Disarray?”

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has presented an occasionally lonely opposition to the Patriot Act, said that Tuesday’s vote demonstrated that he now had company from more than two dozen Republicans who support the Bill of Rights. “The Patriot Act represents the undermining of civil liberties,” Kucinich said after the vote. Republicans “brought [the bill] forward not knowing the votes.”

House leaders rejected that analysis. “Democrats in Congress voted to deny their own administration’s request for key weapons in the war on terror,” said Erica Elliott, spokeswoman for Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

A large majority of the freshman Republicans did support the extension of the law, which the last GOP president, George W. Bush, staunchly supported. Even some who wavered eventually decided to support the bill.

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), a freshman who voted yes, said the measure is “going to need some examination going forward, so all I did today is just, hey, instead of making a wrong decision, we’re just going to do a little more due diligence to make the very right decision to both protect our security as well as protect the civil liberties of the American people.”

“This is just a temporary extension, so the Judiciary Committee can dive a little deeper into the details,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a second-term lawmaker closely aligned with tea party activists. “That seemed fair. I don’t want to let it expire without giving it full contemplation.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who sponsored the extension, told reporters after the vote that opposition had little to do with the particular provisions being considered Tuesday and more to do with other counter-terrorism tools that have received scrutiny. “People didn’t understand it,” he said. “A lot of the complaints that we heard were about sections [of the law] not in this bill.”

The White House said in a statement Tuesday that it “does not object” to extending the three Patriot Act provisions until December. However, it added, the administration “would strongly prefer” an extension until December 2013, noting that the longer timeline “provides the necessary certainty and predictability” that law enforcement agencies require while at the same time ensuring that Congress can continue to review the law’s effectiveness.

The Senate is considering three competing timelines, in addition to the House legislation. Among them are proposals that would permanently extend the three provisions or extend them through 2013.

Patriot Act Extension To Be
Brought Up Again on Thursday

Felicia Sonmez / Washington Post

The House on Thursday will again take up a bill that would extend until December key provisions of the Patriot Act counterterrorism surveillance law, two days after the measure fell seven votes short of the super-majority required for passage under fast-track rules.

The bill will be brought up again under a “closed rule,” meaning that no amendments can be offered. It will need only a simple majority to pass instead of the two-thirds that was required on Tuesday.

That means that the bill will likely be approved. On Tuesday, 277 lawmakers supported the measure, well more than half of the chamber’s members.

Lawmakers will vote on Thursday on the rules governing debate on the measure. That will be followed by debate and a vote on the measure itself, which has yet to be scheduled. A House Republican leadership aide said that GOP leaders are working with members to address any concerns they might have and that they expect the bill to move forward “in the coming days.”

The timeline facing lawmakers could be tricky. The three provisions that would be extended by the bill are set to expire on Feb. 28 unless Congress acts.

Even if the House passes its version of the legislation well before then, the Senate – which is in recess until next week — still has to sign off. And the Senate is debating three different timelines, any of which would extend the Patriot Act provisions beyond the December date called for in the House bill.

Key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have indicated that Feb. 17 is the target date by which the upper chamber must act in order for the provisions to be extended.

The failure on Tuesday of the Patriot Act extension was one of several unexpected turns on the House floor in recent days. Earlier Tuesday, over objections from conservatives, GOP leaders pulled a bill that would have assisted U.S. workers hurt by overseas competition.

And on Wednesday, a measure to take back $180 million in funds the U.S. has already given to the United Nations also fell short of a two-thirds super-majority.

The bill, which had been fast-tracked, failed on a 259-to-169 vote. It had been sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) but was opposed by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.), who was one of two Republicans to vote against it Wednesday.

Democrats charged that the failed votes indicate that the GOP is in “disarray.”

“I don’t know why the leadership would call votes on issues that they don’t have any idea of what the outcome’s likely to be,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), one of the most oustpoken opponents of the Patriot Act. “This is twice in a row. I’m not really sure what the strategy is. … It’s not working for them.”

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