Senate leaders hope to reach a deal setting up a series of votes on Thursday night in order to resolve an impasse that could allow three key Patriot Act provisions to lapse for seven hours on Friday.
There was no agreement byThursday afternoon, but Senate leadership aides -- who are used to resolving up disputes on Thursday nights before Senate recesses -- said that they cautiously anticipate a deal in time to allow both chambers to swiftly clear the bill. President Obama would then sign the legislation renewing authorization of the provisions set to expire for four more years.
Provisions in the bill authorize federal law enforcement officials to use roving wiretaps to track suspects who vary communications devices; to monitor suspected “lone wolves” -- people suspected of plotting violence who aren’t linked to known terrorist organizations abroad; and to require businesses to turn over their private information, such as hotel bills and other data on credit-card transactions, related to terror suspects.
Those powers expire at midnight on Thursday.However, under a procedure worked out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a vote on passage of the a bill reauthorizing three Patriot Act provisions for four years will not occur until 7 a.m. on Friday unless all 100 senators agree to an earlier vote.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., so far has rejected a deal because he says Reid reneged on a promise to allow votes on amendments to increase privacy protections. On Thursday, Paul said he had nearly reached a deal with both leaders to allow him votes on two amendments, including one exempting certain gun records from being searched under Patriot Act authority.
But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt,., who has been pushing for a vote on his own amendment that would sunset some provisions in the legislation before 2015 and increase oversight of government use the Patriot Act authorities, said that he would object to such an arrangement without a vote on his proposal as well. According to a Democratic leadership aide, Republicans will not agree to a vote on Leahy’s amendment without votes on additional GOP amendments. That was the basis of the impasse on Thursday afternoon.
Another holdup appears to be among Republicans. According to Paul and GOP aides, McConnell is blocking a vote on Paul’s gun-related amendment. Gun Owners of America, though not the National Rifle Association, back the amendment, which might force GOP senators into an awkward vote pitting gun rights against national security concerns.
Leahy told reporters that he was prepared to unhappily accept Reid’s stated intention earlier this week to allow no amendment votes. But he said he told the majority leader on Thursday morning, “If you’re gonna agree to amendments, I’m not agreeing to anything that doesn’t have mine.”
According to Leahy, Reid said that allowing that vote would “hold everything up” and force a 7 a.m. vote.
However, Leahy indicated that he was unconcerned about that prospect. “I’ve been here 37 years,” he said. “ I’ve done that a few times.”
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This article appears in the May 26, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.