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Democrats chortle over GOP failure to pass Patriot Act extension

From Rachel Streitfeld and Deirdre Walsh, CNN
  • "It seems as though they are in disarray"
  • 26 Republicans voted against bill
  • Some say they needed more time to understand measure
  • Others concerned about civil liberties

Washington (CNN) -- House Democratic leaders got to a chance to gloat after Republicans failed on Tuesday to pass a bill extending key provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the month.

"I think our Republican colleagues are struggling with the burden of leadership and clearly they have not found their footing going forward," said Maryland Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen.

Republicans seemed to be blindsided Tuesday night when they came up seven votes short of passing a bill keeping three current measures used by law enforcement and intelligence officials from expiring at the end of February.

The bill, considered under a House rule requiring two-thirds majority for passage, would have extended these provisions through December 8, 2011. Twenty-six Republicans opposed the bill, eight of whom are freshmen. Some Republicans such as Ron Paul of Texas have previously opposed Patriot Act extensions because of concerns about civil liberties.

One freshman, Representative Raul Labrador of Utah, also said concerns about privacy prompted his "no" vote. "While I agree that law enforcement and national security agencies need the tools necessary to keep America safe from terrorism, when crafting policy we need to be sure we are not infringing upon the protections and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution." Labrador said in a statement.

One GOP leadership aide conceded that many of the Republicans who opposed the measure did so because they felt they were not adequately briefed and were reluctant to support the extension before getting up to speed on the issue.

Before Tuesday's vote a Republican Judiciary aide explained that time concerns about the law expiring at the end of the month and the need for the Senate to vote on it caused leaders to move ahead with a vote without holding hearings. The extension through December, according to the aide, would give the committee the rest of the year to educate new members about the need for a longer-term extension.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio admitted that the vote could have been handled better, but blamed House Democrats for failing to support the bill.

"Listen, we've been in the majority four weeks. We are not going to be perfect every day. If the Democrats who had voted for these same provisions last year had voted for them this year it would have passed," he said. One hundred twenty-two Democrats voted against the bill.

Boehner also declared that the Patriot Act provisions would be renewed: "We are going to get these extensions of the Patriot Act enacted because it is important to the safety and security of the American people."

But when he was pressed on why leaders scheduled the bill in a way that mandated a supermajority to pass, Boehner curtly replied, "It was."

GOP leaders were also forced to pull a trade bill from a floor vote on Tuesday because they were concerned it could fail to muster the votes to pass. Ways and Means Committee leaders explained they were still working on the bill.

Democrats, still smarting from a stinging loss in November, wasted no time in rubbing it in that the new GOP leaders couldn't move their agenda forward on the House floor.

"They have the responsibility of governing and it seems right now they are coming apart at the seams," said Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson of Connecticut. "From the outside looking in, it seems as though they are in disarray."

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said while the failure seemed to surprise party leaders, he maintained it was not a shock to anyone who watched last year's election.

"I think it means that they have divisions within their party," Hoyer said. "I think we all knew they had divisions in their party."