WASHINGTON - The Senate on Friday rejected attempts to reauthorize several provisions of the USA Patriot Act as infringing too much on Americans' privacy, dealing a major defeat to President Bush and Republican leaders.
In a crucial vote Friday morning as Congress raced toward adjournment, the bill's Senate supporters were not able to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a threatened filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and their allies. The final vote was 52-47
Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and GOP congressional leaders had lobbied fiercely to make most of the expiring Patriot Act provisions permanent, and add new safeguards and expiration dates to the two most controversial parts: roving wiretaps and secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries.
Making most of the act's provisions permanent was a priority for both the Bush administration and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill before Congress adjourns for the year.
The House on Wednesday passed a House-Senate compromise bill to renew the Act that supporters say added significant safeguards to the law.
The failure to renew the provisions would be "interpreted by our enemies as somehow inviting or even enabling further terrorist attacks on U.S. soil," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.
But the law's critics, such as Sens. Feingold and Craig, say they don't want the Patriot Act to expire - they just want enough time to improve the bill to the point where it doesn't infringe on American liberties. That idea was rejected by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., and by the White House.
"In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without these vital tools for a single moment," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said earlier today before the Senate vote.
Congress passed the Patriot Act overwhelmingly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The law expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.
The bill's opponents say the original act was rushed into law, and Congress should take more time now to make sure the rights of innocent Americans are safeguarded before making most of the expiring provisions permanent.
They says the current Patriot Act gives government too much power to investigate people's private lives.