Hours before three controversial PATRIOT Act provisions were set to expire, Congress approved a bill extending the provisions until June 1, 2015. At the Open Congress blog, Donny Shaw summarized the legal points:
They include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without being allows to inform the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track terrorists acting independently of any foreign power or organization.
Congress approved a three-month extension of those provisions in February. The bill that just passed was a compromise between House Republican and Senate Democratic leaders who disagreed on how far to extend the powers. A House bill would have extended the “lone wolf” authority permanently and the others for six and a half years. A Senate bill would have extended all three powers until the end of 2013.
Many senators have complained that the PATRIOT Act provisions in question undermine civil liberties, but few had the stomach to filibuster the bill when the Senate considered a motion to proceed on May 23. Iowans Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley were among the 74 senators voting for considering the PATRIOT Act extension (roll call). Just eight senators voted to filibuster this bill; another 18 senators did not vote on the motion to proceed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used a legislative maneuver to block various amendments seeking to reform the PATRIOT Act from receiving votes on the floor yesterday. The Senate voted on just two amendments, both submitted by Republican Rand Paul. Motions to table those amendments passed with overwhelming majorities, 91 to 4 and 85 to 10. Both Harkin and Grassley voted to table Paul’s amendments.
Harkin and Grassley disagreed on final passage of the bill, however, as they did when the last extension came to a vote in February. Grassley was among 72 senators voting for the four-year PATRIOT Act extension; Harkin was among the 23 voting against it (roll call).
The bill then went to the House for consideration. After some debate it passed on Thursday evening by a vote of 250 to 153. The roll call shows that Democrat Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) all voted yes, while Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted no, with the majority of their caucus. Quite a few House members crossed party lines on this bill; 31 Republicans voted no, while 54 Democrats voted yes. Iowa’s House delegation split the same way in February when the three-month PATRIOT Act extension passed.
After the House voted to concur with the Senate amendment to the bill, the PATRIOT Act extension went to President Barack Obama’s desk. Because the president is in France, White House officials said Obama signed the bill before midnight using some kind of “autopen” machine. That’s the first I ever heard of that technology.
After the jump I’ve posted a memo from Grassley on the PATRIOT Act extension, which the Republican senator’s office sent to the media on Thursday evening. At this writing I have not seen press releases on this vote from Harkin, Braley, Loebsack, Boswell, Latham or King.
Glenn Greenwald wrote a good post on the cynicism of Democrats who have been using the Republican talking points of yesteryear to browbeat colleagues into rubber-stamping the PATRIOT Act extension.
UPDATE: Added King’s press release on this vote after the jump.
From Grassley’s office on May 26:
Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made the following statement after the Senate voted to extend the USA PATRIOT Act.
“The Senate vote was a reaffirmation of the importance of these expiring authorities that help secure our nation. The three expiring provisions have provided a great deal of information to agents that have helped thwart terrorist attacks while protecting legitimate privacy and constitutional rights. Now, I hope the House will give the agents the certainty and predictability they need to use these tools to collect critical intelligence in the War on Terror.”
Press release from Representative Steve King:
Congressman King: “If a roving wiretap is good enough for Tony Soprano, it’s good enough for Mohamed Atta.”
Washington, DC – Congressman Steve King (R-IA) released the following statement tonight after voting in favor of legislation that reauthorizes three key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that were set to expire. The legislation passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 250 to 153.
“If a roving wiretap is good enough for Tony Soprano, it’s good enough for Mohamed Atta,” said King. “That’s the real issue because the provisions of the PATRIOT Act that were reauthorized today simply allow counterterrorism agents to use the same investigative techniques that law enforcement agents have been using against criminal suspects for decades. These techniques have consistently been found to be constitutional, and they provide counterterrorism agents with the ability to level the playing field against terror suspects. The PATRIOT Act is an important component of America’s War on Terror, and Congress was correct to reauthorize the use of these common sense investigative techniques.”
The three counterterrorism tools that Congressman King voted to reauthorize are:
• Allowing counterterrorism agents armed with a court order to use “roving wiretaps” to conduct surveillance of terrorist suspects who are shown to be an agent of a foreign power.
• Enabling FBI agents who have received a judge’s approval to gain access to business records in foreign intelligence, international terrorism and espionage cases.
• Allowing counterterrorism agents to apply for a court order permitting them to monitor a “lone wolf” whom they suspect of being a member of a foreign terrorist organization. The “lone wolf” provision can only be used to investigate international terrorism and cannot be applied to American citizens.
Congressman King has also authored an op-ed on the importance of renewing these PATRIOT Act provisions. The op-ed, “Patriot Act Fits Tea Party Standards,” can be viewed at this link.