The Senate this evening passed a four-year extension of expiring Patriot Act provisions, only hours before they were due to lapse at midnight.
The Senate voted 72-23 on final passage of the bill. The measure now moves on to the House, which is expected to approve the extension in the next few hours. It will then go to President Obama for his signature.
The vote came after Senate leaders reached an agreement with Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY. The agreement stipulated that a final vote on passage of the Patriot Act extension could occur if the Senate also voted on two amendments offered by Paul.
One of his amendments sought to clarify that the authority to obtain info under the Patriot Act did not include the authority to obtain certain gun records.
“I think it’s very important that we protect the rights of gun owners in our country not only for hunting, but for self-protection, and that the records of those in our country who own guns should be secret,” Paul said on the Senate floor before the vote. “I don’t think the government, well-intentioned or not well-intentioned, should be sifting through millions of records of gun owners.”
Another amendment attempted to make financial firms issue suspicious activity reports only in certain cases when initiated by an appropriate law enforcement agency.
“My Visa bill sometimes have been $5,000," Paul said. "Sometimes we pay for them over the phone, which is a wire transfer. Have I been investigated by my government? I don’t know. It’s secret. What I want are protections.”
“I’ll give you an analogy,” he continued. “Right now you have been to the airport. Most of America has been to the airport at some point or time in the last year or two. Millions of people fly every day. But we’re taking this shotgun approach; we think everyone is a terrorist. So everyone is being patted down, everyone is being strip searched. We are putting our hands inside the pants of 6-year-old children. Have we not gone so far, are we so afraid that we’re willing to give up all of our liberty in exchange for security?”
Ultimately, both of Paul’s amendments failed to advance in the Senate.
The feud between Paul and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the days leading up to this evening’s final vote led to fears that the Patriot Act provisions – despite bipartisan support for them – would not be extended before the midnight deadline.
A senior administration official told ABC News this afternoon that if Congress failed to pass the legislation, it would pose “a significant risk to U.S. national security.”
“The bottom line is that if these provisions are allowed to lapse, even temporarily, the nation will be less safe,” the official said.
But in the end, the feud in the Senate was resolved, the Senate passed the provisions and sent them along to the House, leaving the Obama administration and 72 senators pleased. The Senate is now set to leave for its week-long Memorial Day recess.