Senate gives Patriot Act six more months
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senators voted late Wednesday night to extend some expiring and contentious provisions of the Patriot Act for six months after leaders announced minutes earlier that they had reached a bipartisan agreement.
Approval in the Senate, many of whose members said they wanted an extension so the act could be retooled, leaves House approval as the final hurdle to keep the Patriot Act intact for now.
The House will convene at 4 p.m. Thursday to approve the extension and to vote on changes that the Senate made to the Deficit Reduction Act and the military spending bill.
Last week, the House voted 251-174 to renew the 16 provisions after striking a compromise that altered some of them. The provisions were set to expire at year's end if not renewed.
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.
The House approved a bill that would have extended most of them permanently, but a filibuster after the bill reached the Senate stopped the measure from moving forward.
Republican leaders tried to break the filibuster Friday, but could muster only 52 of the necessary 60 votes. Four Republicans crossed party lines to oppose the extension.
That vote came on the same day that The New York Times reported that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. residents, without warrants.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, cited the newspaper report as the reason he opposed permanently renewing the Patriot Act provisions, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, called the newspaper's revelation "devastating" to the renewal effort.
Bush pushed senators to reauthorize the provisions, insisting they were vital to give law enforcement and intelligence agencies the tools they need to fight terrorism.
"I appreciate the Senate for working to keep the existing Patriot Act in law through next July, despite boasts last week by the Democratic leader that he had blocked the act," Bush said in a statement released by the White House. "No one should be allowed to block the Patriot Act to score political points, and I am grateful the Senate rejected that approach."
"The Patriot Act is a vital tool for America in the war on terror," the president said. "The act has torn down the wall between law enforcement and intelligence officials to help us connect the dots and prevent attacks ... The act will expire next summer, but the terrorist threat to America will not expire on that schedule."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, announced the agreement from the Senate floor after days of behind-the-scenes wrangling that ended the Senate impasse.
Frist had been one of the most outspoken supporters of re-authorizing the provisions, arguing that a vote against immediate reauthorization "amounts to defeat and retreat at home."
In announcing Wednesday's agreement, however, Frist said that the agreement to extend the act was evidence "that there is broad bipartisan support that the Patriot Act never should expire."
"This is a win for America's safety and security, and I'm pleased the Senate was able to rise above the partisan politics being played by the minority to do the right thing," he said in a statement.
The Wednesday agreement marks a tidal shift among GOP leaders who have fervently resisted Democratic offers to temporarily extend the act so it could be revisited.
At least one Democrat applauded the new Republican sentiment.
In a statement calling the extension a "victory for the American people" because it strikes a balance between security and privacy concerns, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Congress now has time to "get the Patriot Act right."
"I'm glad the president and Republican leaders have agreed with Democrats that we needed an extension," he said. "There's a right way and a wrong way to mend the Patriot Act. The wrong way is to force senators to cast their votes on legislation written in the middle of the night. The right way is the agreement we have tonight."
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has said the extension would enable common sense to re-enter the debate over the act. Before the Wednesday announcement, Leahy told reporters that 52 senators -- including eight Republicans -- had signed a letter to Frist calling for an extension.
Sen. John Sununu, R-New Hampshire, who co-sponsored the measure with Leahy, said there are "a number of different ways that we could work through this issue." He added that an extension would give senators time to work out their differences on the act.
"I do think there are changes that can be made, acceptable to both the House and Senate, that will enable us to get strong, bipartisan majorities in both chambers," he said.
The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, created after the September 11, 2001 attacks, allows the government broad authority to investigate people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.
CNN's Craig Broffman contributed to this report.
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