House Votes To Renew Patriot Act

Patriot Act, Civil Liberties, Constitution
The House voted to extend indefinitely the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act, while limiting to 10 years two of the most controversial provisions of the law: allowing federal agents to use roving wiretaps and to search library and medical records.

By a 257-171 margin, lawmakers who earlier Thursday had watched reports of attempted terrorist bombings in London, agreed to renew key provisions of the Patriot Act that were set to expire at the end of this year.

Forty-three Democrats joined 214 Republicans in passing the bill, which dropped 14 of 16 expiration dates on provisions initially drafted into the law shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Hours earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its own general extension of the law, but it called for Congress to re-examine the wiretap and library provisions after another four-year time period. The full Senate likely will vote on the bill this fall, before the competing measures are reconciled in a conference committee.

President Bush cheered the House vote.

"The Patriot Act is a key part of our efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people, and the Congress needs to send me a bill soon that renews the act without weakening our ability to fight terror," Mr. Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

Despite more than nine hours of passionate debate, the House nearly one-upped the Senate in a surprise revolt at the conclusion of its deliberations. Nine Republicans broke ranks and voted with a united Democratic bloc on a last-ditch effort to make all 16 of the Patriot Act's most sensitive provisions subject to an additional four-year "sunset" period.

"It is not a Republican vote; it is not a Democrat vote," said one of the rogue Republicans, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California. Instead, he cast it as an attempt to adhere to the limited government envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the House, shook his head in disgust — while House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., came to the floor and cast a rare vote of his own — as a designated 15-minute voting period on the Democratic proposal ended in a 205-205 tie. Late-arriving members continued to vote, eventually defeating it by a margin of 218-209.

"Good oversight is done by congressional leadership, not by sunsets," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who shepherded the bill through the chamber as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for