When a bill extending key Patriot Act provisions failed to pass in the House, the Republican leadership was eating crow. Several Tea Party freshmen legislators broke from the ranks to side with Democrats in defeating the bill. House Democrats gloated at the apparent state of disarray among the Republican majority, which as a minority had voted in lock-step against any Democratic measure.
Patriot Act surveillance due to expire
The Patriot Act of 2001 laid the foundation for the establishment of a surveillance state. Patriot Act surveillance provisions that failed to pass the House Tuesday would have allowed the FBI to continue using court-approved “roving wiretaps” to inspect library records and to snoop into anything deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation. A “lone-wolf” provision allowing surveillance of noncitizens with no proven terrorist ties was also in the defeated bill. If House Republicans can’t come up with a bill that satisfies their Tea Party acolytes, the government’s power to spy on Americans and noncitizens using these approaches expires on Feb. 28.
Patriot Act no longer a slam dunk
House Republican leaders may have thought the Patriot Act bill would be a slam dunk. To avoid hearings on the bill, the vote was held under “fast track” rules requiring a two-thirds vote to pass. Even though House Speaker John Boehner held the roll call on the bill about a half hour longer than the allotted 15 minutes, the Patriot Act bill failed 277 to 148. Twenty-six republicans voted against the bill, including eight Tea Party freshmen. After the Patriot Act bill was defeated, GOP leaders withdrew a trade bill from a floor vote because they realized any form of Republican legislation wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to pass.
House GOP challenged to govern
After easily delivering legislation on repealing the health care law, the Patriot Act setback called attention to the difficult transition from opposition to actually governing for Republicans. Boehner vowed that the Patriot Act provisions would ultimately be extended. He blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure. Majority Leader Eric Cantor. R-Va., accused Democrats of not being serious about national security. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told CNN “I think our Republican colleagues are struggling with the burden of leadership and clearly they have not found their footing going forward.”