Republicans Object To Vote On Leahy Amendment To Add Oversight, Privacy Protections To USA PATRIOT Act Extension

WASHINGTON (Thursday, May 26, 2011) – Senate Republicans objected to a request from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold a vote on Leahy’s bipartisan  amendment to pending legislation to extend until June 2015 three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act which are set to expire at midnight.  The amendment is based on legislation that won bipartisan support earlier this year in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs.  The amendment would bolster oversight and accountability, as well as privacy protections for all Americans.

Senate Leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck an agreement to hold votes on two pending amendments offered by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.  Leahy sought to include a vote on his pending bipartisan amendment, but Republican Leader McConnell objected to the request.

“One more time we have a case where we could have two amendments from the Republican side, and we have one that is cosponsored by both Republicans and Democrats on this side, and we can’t go forward with it. We have two amendments that have not gone through any Committee hearings. [My amendment] has been voted on by a bipartisan majority. Republicans and Democrats twice voted it out of Committee.”

Leahy continued, “It is my inclination to object further.  And I realize the difficult position that would put the Majority Leader in, and so I will not object. But I do feel this really ruins the chances to make the  PATRIOT Act one that could have had far, far greater bipartisan support, and we have lost a wonderful chance.”

“I assure the Leader this amendment will be offered as a free-standing bill.  And I hope because of the bipartisan support, it could be brought up at some point,” Leahy said.

The three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act include roving wiretaps, the “lone wolf” measure, and section 215 orders for tangible things, commonly referred to as the “library records” provision.  The authorities were originally set to expire in December 2009.  Leahy first proposed legislation to reauthorize the intelligence-gathering tools in September 2009.  The bill won bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009, and was backed by the Obama administration, the Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence.

After a series of short-term extensions, the authorities are now set to expire at midnight.  The Senate will vote tonight on legislation offered by the Senate majority and minority leaders to provide a straight extension of the authorities until June 1, 2015, more than five years after the original expiration date, and nine years after legislative improvements to the original USA PATRIOT Act were last enacted.  The bill, however, makes no additional improvements to the law.

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