Wherein I praise the 26 House Republicans who voted with 122 Democrats to block an extension of especially egregious Patriot Act provisions
The forces of freedom, even in the minority, triumphed earlier today in the House:
A measure to extend key provisions of the Patriot Act counterterrorism surveillance law through December failed the House Tuesday night, with more than two-dozen Republicans bucking their party to oppose the measure.
The House measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and required a two-thirds majority for passage, failed on a 277-to-148 vote. Twenty-six Republicans voted with 122 Democrats to oppose the measure, while 67 Democrats voted with 210 Republicans to back it. Ten members did not vote.
The measure would have extended three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire on Monday, Feb. 28, unless Congress moves to reauthorize them. One of the provisions authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access "any tangible items," such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and the third is a "lone wolf" provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.
The vote came as several tea party-aligned members of the new freshman class had been expressing doubts about the measure.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who highlighted his opposition to the law during his upstart 2010 Senate campaign, signaled Monday that he may vote ultimately vote against an extension when the measure comes up in the Senate, likely later this month.
Look, I'm a proud Democrat, but where Republicans deserve praise I'll happily give it. And for this they -- or at least 26 of them -- do. (If that aligns me with Rand Paul, however much I may dislike him, so be it.)
And shame on the 67 Democrats who voted with the majority of Republicans.
And shame, too, on President Obama, who wants a three-year extension of these provisions. (Because, of course, he's enthusiastically keeping much of the Bush-Cheney national security state in place -- so much for all that change we thought we might be able to believe in. Think there would have been so much enthusiastic support for him if he's been clearer about his policy priorities?)
When Rand Paul and Tea Party House Republicans make you look bad, you know you're doing something horribly wrong. And Obama is doing just that.
For some political perspective on the vote, see The Nation's John Nichols:
Most House Republicans -- including supposed defenders of the Constitution such as Michigan Congresswoman Michele Bachmann -- went along with their leadership. In so doing, they failed to address fundamental concerns, raised by conservatives and liberals, about Patriot Act abuses of the very Constitution that theyread aloud at the opening of the current Congress.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, led the vast majority of House Democrats in opposing any extension. In all, 122 Democrats -- roughly two-thirds of the party's House caucus -- voted "no" to extending surveillance authorities that the American Civil Liberties Union warns "give the government sweeping authority to spy on individuals inside the United States and, in some cases, without any suspicion of wrongdoing. All three should be allowed to expire if they are not amended to include privacy protections to protect personal information from government overreach."
Joining the Democrats in voting "no" were 26 Republicans, including Texas Congressman Ron Paul and a number of other senior Republicans with records of breaking with their party on civil liberties issues, such as Tennessee's John Duncan Jr. and South Carolina's Walter Jones Jr. Joining them were several new members of the GOP caucus, such as Illinois Congressman Randy Hultgren and Michigan Congressman Justin Amash.
The vote came Tuesday evening after a heated floor debate, which saw Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, call on members of both parties to obey their oaths to defend the Constitution.
"The PATRIOT Act is a destructive undermining of the Constitution," Kucinich told the House. "How about today we take a stand for the Constitution to say that all Americans should be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and to make certain that the attempt to reauthorize the Patriot Act is beat down."
Against the lobbying of the Obama administration and the determined efforts of House GOP leaders -- who kept what was supposed to be a 15 minute open for 25 minutes as they tried to corral the needed seven votes -- Kucinich's argument carried the day.
Very well done, Dennis. Though as this vote suggests, most Republicans and many Democrats are more than willing to disobey their oaths.