Patriot Act Could Expire at Midnight

May 26, 2011 9:20am

ABC News' Matthew Jaffe (@JaffeMatt) reports:

Will the Patriot Act be derailed by one Tea Party senator's complaints, despite resounding bipartisan support?

It could happen. If the Senate today does not pass a four-year extension of the Patriot Act in time for the House to approve the measure as well, then the law will expire at midnight Friday morning.

Today at 10am the bill will easily get enough votes to advance past a key procedural vote, but under Senate rules, 30 hours of debate must then ensue before a final vote occurs, unless both parties agree to waive some debate time.

And that means Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will need to get Republicans – especially Tea Partier Rand Paul, who has fought vigorously all week for votes on his amendments – to agree to waive some of those 30 hours if the final vote is to occur today. Once it does occur, the bill will then move over to the House, where it is set to be approved and sent on to the White House.

The Patriot Act's ultimate passage is a foregone conclusion due to the bipartisan support it enjoys, but its enemy right now is time. Reid wanted the Senate to pass the measure on an expedited timeframe, but Paul refused to budge, upset that he could not force votes on his measures, including one to limit the government from inspecting the records of gun dealers as part of its search for possible terrorists.

On Wednesday afternoon Paul, the Tea Party favorite from Kentucky who arrived on Capitol Hill with a bang in January, took to the Senate floor to rant against Reid’s stance.

“It demeans the Senate body and the people that we can't have an intelligent debate over the constitutionality of this. I am somehow to be told that because I believe a judge should sign a warrant that I’m in favor of terrorists having weapons? The absurdity of it, the insult of it! If one argues that judges should sign warrants before they go into the house of an alleged murderer, are you in favor of murder? Can we not have a debate on a higher plane, a debate over whether or not there should be some constitutional protections, some constitutional procedure?” 

“They are petrified to vote on issues of guns because they know that a lot of people in America favor the second amendment, own guns, and want to protect the right to own guns and the right to have those records not sifted through by the government,” he railed.

For his part, Reid told reporters hours later that they have had “a bipartisan effort to allow amendments,” but that Paul has now risked the Patriot Act expiring in his fight for votes on his measures.

“That is not good for the world,” Reid warned.

“If one person wants to be a demagogue, he can do that,” sighed the Nevada lawmaker.

Now, without swift reauthorization by the Senate, the law could lapse on Friday morning. The Patriot Act extension continues powers for investigators in national security cases to conduct “roving” wiretaps, seek certain business records, and gather intelligence on lone terrorists who are not affiliated with a known terrorist group.

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