Late on October 11, the Senate assembled to vote. Leahy and Daschle knew every Republican would support the bill. They wanted Democrats to do the same. But Senator Russell Feingold was refusing to go along. A liberal who routinely bucked pressure from his own party, the Wisconsin Democrat had deep reservations about the bill hurtling through the Senate. He considered the provisions "some of the most radical changes to law enforcement in a generation" and was particularly worried that Section 215 gave the government too much power to sift through people's lives. He wanted the Senate to vote on a series of amendments that would do more to protect privacy. Feingold's stance annoyed Daschle, who cornered him at the back of the Senate floor shortly before the vote. "The bill will only get worse if we open it up to debate," he told Feingold. Leahy also chimed in, telling Feingold that while he agreed with almost everything Feingold was proposing, the votes simply weren't there. Leahy warned that if Feingold offered amendments, their conservative colleagues would try to give investigators even more extensive powers.
Feingold wouldn't budge. "There is no doubt," he declared on the Senate floor that evening, "that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country where the police were allowed to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country where the government was entitled to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your e-mail communications...the government would probably discover and arrest more terrorists, or would-be terrorists....But that would not be a country in which we would want to live."
Feingold offered his amendments, and they were rejected. One month after the attacks, the USA Patriot Act, short for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, passed the Senate, 96-1. The law's acronym spoke volumes about what the administration expected from its citizens.
Lawmakers and legislative aides were lining up for nasal swabs and Cipro. Yellow police tape encircled the Hart Senate Office Building. The House had shut down for the first time in memory. On October 17, the capital was confronting a new threat: anthrax. It was contained in a letter mailed to Daschle, and no one knew how many people might have been exposed. Were there more letters? Were anthrax spores floating through the Capitol's ventilation system? Suddenly, it became more urgent than ever to get the Patriot Act to the president's desk.
Amid the panic, Leahy, Daschle, Flanigan, Dinh, and others gathered in House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office to smooth out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. The House bill, which had passed in the early morning hours of October 12, included sunset and court oversight provisions Leahy had been unable to get in the Senate. There was no longer any question that the Patriot Act would include some court oversight, though not as much as Leahy and Armey wanted. The key issue remaining for those in Hastert's office was how long the new law should be in effect. Leahy and Armey pressed for a two-year "sunset," which would force the White House to win congressional approval of the most controversial provisions of the law all over again in 2005. The administration wanted no time limit but eventually agreed on four years.
Sunset in 2005.