Patriot Act renewal fails in Senate
GOP fights to save provisions before end-of-year deadline
Sens Ken Salazar, left, John Sununu, center, and Patrick Leahy talk to the press after the Patriot Act vote.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate on Friday rejected efforts to renew expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, dealing a major blow to President Bush and the Republican leadership.
Senators on both sides of the aisle argued that some of the act's provisions infringe on civil rights. The bipartisan group proposed a three-month extension to continue debate and amend certain provisions, but the Senate also rejected that proposal Friday.
The Senate needed 60 votes to override a filibuster and end debate, which is called "invoking cloture." Cloture would have brought the Patriot Act to a final vote, allowing the Senate to renew it by a simple majority.
But only 52 senators voted to cut off debate; 47 voted against cloture.
The move lays the groundwork for a high-stakes showdown.
Bush has said he would veto a three-month extension, arguing it would be inadequate. But without an extension, 16 provisions could expire at the end of the year. There's also the possibility the Senate could still manage to bring the Patriot Act to a vote before the December 31 deadline.
The Bush administration had lobbied intensely for making the provisions permanent. Top officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, had called lawmakers in hopes of swaying them to the administration's position. (Read what Bush has to say)
In a statement after the Senate's vote, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the provisions "are essential to our efforts in the war on terrorism and their loss will damage our ability to prevent terrorist attacks. Our nation cannot afford to let these important counterterrorism tools lapse."
The act, created after the September 11, 2001 attacks, allows the government broad authority to investigate people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. Controversial measures include those allowing the FBI -- with a court order -- to obtain secret warrants for business, library, medical, and other records, and to get a wiretap on every phone a suspect uses.
As the Senate gathered Friday to debate whether the government had abused its authority, a major news story played a critical role.
The New York Times reported Friday that Bush, months after the September 11 attacks, "secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials."
Sources with knowledge of the program told CNN the report is accurate.
The report was "very, very (problematic), if not devastating" to the renewal effort, according to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, who helped negotiate a compromise with House leaders on extending the provisions.
During Friday's session, senators held up copies of the New York Times report as a sign that the government could not be trusted with all the broad powers laid out in the Patriot Act. (Read about the report)
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said he had been unsure the night before how he would vote. "Today's revelation that the government listened in on thousands of phone conversations without getting a warrant is shocking and has greatly influenced my vote," he said. "Today's revelation makes it very clear that we have to be very careful. Very careful."
Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wisconsin, who voted against the original Patriot Act and led efforts to filibuster the current version, said, "I can't imagine a more shocking example of an abuse of power."
When it comes to discussion of the Patriot Act, Feingold said lawmakers must "come together" to simultaneously give the government the authority it needs "and protect the rights and freedoms of innocent citizens."
"We are a democracy -- let's have checks and balances," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, in an impassioned speech. "Let us have a government of checks and balances."
Republicans who voted against cloture included Sens. Chuck Hagel, John Sununu, Lisa Murkowski, and Larry Craig.
"I urge calm and sensitivity to the fundamental civil liberties of our country," said Craig.
Sununu said the government had provided no "substantive" material to show how proposed changes to some of the provisions could in any way undermine or weaken the government's ability to fight terrorism.
Kyl: 'No Middle Ground'
But Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona argued that the government has not abused its powers and that the Patriot Act should be renewed.
"You either vote yes to reauthorize or no not to reauthorize -- there is no middle ground," he said.
Citing Bush's threat to veto a three-month extension, Kyl added, "If you voted against cloture you are voting to allow the Patriot Act to expire.".
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, during his daily briefing Friday, was asked why the administration would oppose an extension.
"We've expressed our views how we believe the provisions should be permanent," he said. "And I think what's happening now is that some people are playing politics with this legislation."
Bush has called the act "essential to fighting the war on terror and preventing our enemies from striking America again."
Among the staunchest supporters of reauthorizing the provisions was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who argued that voting against immediate reauthorization "amounts to defeat and retreat at home."
But due to the complexity of Senate rules, Frist ultimately voted against cloture. The vote allows him to try to bring the act up for another vote.
This week, the House of Representatives voted 251-174 to renew the 16 provisions, after striking a compromise that altered some of them.
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