Harry Reid pushes forward on Patriot Act
By SCOTT WONG | 5/24/11 9:27 PM EDT
Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday used a procedural move to circumvent Sen. Rand Paul’s efforts to offer amendments to a bill granting a four-year extension of expiring provisions of the Patriot Act.
The parliamentary maneuver allows the chamber to finish debate on the legislation sooner and move past what was sure to be a drawn-out amendment process lead by Paul, the Kentucky Republican and tea party favorite who is a vocal critic of the law.
Reid said he’s recently held discussions with Paul and other senators who want votes on their amendments to the extension bill, which covers three key provisions of the counter-terrorism surveillance law that are set to sunset at midnight Thursday.
“I understand Senator Paul’s exasperation because this is something that is extremely important to him and there was every desire from my perspective and I think this body to have a full, complete debate on the Patriot Act,” Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday night. “But the Senate doesn’t always work that way. … We cannot let this Patriot Act expire. I have a personal responsibility to try to get this bill done as soon as possible.”
He added: “The time has come for me to take some action.
Paul remained on the Senate floor through most of Tuesday — even skipping Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress — to remind Reid of his promise earlier this year to allow senators a week-long debate and the ability to offer amendments to the Patriot Act legislation.
“Sen. Reid went through procedural hoops to go back on his word,” Paul said in a statement, adding that Reid “denied the Senate the opportunity to debate the constitutionality of its provisions.”
“Today’s events further underscore the U.S. government’s lack of transparency and accountability to the American people,” Paul said.
The Senate voted 74-13 to shelve a Patriot Act extension bill that Paul and other senators had offered changes to this week. Nine members of the Democratic caucus and two Republicans – Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Dean Heller of Nevada – voted no. Paul voted present.
Reid then inserted the Patriot Act legislation in a message the Senate received from the House and filed cloture, setting up a final vote later this week.
The three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act authorize authorities to conduct court-approved roving wiretaps, monitor so-called “lone-wolf” terror suspects and access business, library and other records. One of Paul’s amendments would bar authorities from accessing firearm records.
Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who voted no on Tuesday, vowed in a conference call earlier in the day to vote no on the final extension bill if their amendments were not agreed to.
Their amendments would place additional restrictions on when federal authorities could conduct expanded surveillance of terrorism suspects, and the senators argued that another short-term extension was preferable to a long-term extension with no debate or reforms.
“We’ve known for months – years, in fact – that this was on our to-do list this Congress. Many Americans have been demanding reforms to these provisions for years,” Udall said.
“Instead, we’ve been passing short-term reauthorizations, waiting for the promised opportunity to finally consider a comprehensive overhaul,” Udall added. “Yet suddenly we’re being pushed to approve a four-year straight reauthorization in just a few days, saying – falsely – that we don’t have time for a full debate.”
While Reid and Paul may disagree on a number of political issues, Reid called Paul a “very pleasant man with strong, strong feelings.” Paul has been “reasonable,” Reid said, agreeing to bring down the number of amendments from 11 to just three or four.
“He will learn over the years that it’s always difficult to get what you want in the Senate,” Reid said. “It doesn’t mean you won’t get it, but sometimes you have to wait and get it done at a subsequent time.”