Patriot Act Passes Key Vote, Could Still Briefly Lapse

May 26, 2011 11:50am

ABC's Matthew Jaffe (@jaffematt) reports:

The Senate today voted to pass three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, but the provisions could still lapse at the end of the day if Tea Party darling Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky insists on 30 hours of debate before allowing a final vote.

On the back of resounding bipartisan support, the four-year extension survived this morning’s procedural vote by a count of 79-18. The vote was called at 10:25 a.m..

The Patriot Act extensions continue 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.

The problem is not support, however, but time. The provisions are set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Once the Senate passes them, they will still have to be approved by the House. That is why the bill’s chief advocates such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada  have cautioned that time is of the essence. If Congress does not reauthorize the provisions in time, then “that is not good for the world,” Reid warned Wednesday evening.

But Reid has been unable to convince Paul, a Republican, to yield. Paul has fought vigorously all week for votes on his amendments, including one to limit the government from inspecting the records of gun dealers as part of its search for possible terrorists.   Paul took to the Senate floor Wednesday to rant against Reid’s efforts to pass the bill on an expedited timeframe.
“It demeans the Senate body and the people that we can't have an intelligent debate over the constitutionality of this,” Paul said.

“They are petrified to vote on issues of guns,” he said of his Democratic counterparts, “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.”
What will happen next is unclear. The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, this morning emphasized that “nothing in this extension has ever been found to be unconstitutional,” telling his colleagues that it is “absolutely imperative” that they pass the extension. But the Senate can only waive some of the 30 hours of debate if every senator agrees to do so, including Paul.

“If one person wants to be a demagogue, he can do that,” Reid said Wednesday.

As the procedural vote wrapped up this morning, Democratic aides said Paul had agreed to allow a final vote  in exchange for getting two of his amendments to come to a vote, but that Senate Republican leaders had objected to the tentative deal. At this time, it seems, negotiations continue to take place on Capitol Hill. 

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