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PATRIOT Act Renewal Passes Senate

Last night, the U.S. Senate passed a three-month extension of three PATRIOT Act provisions. A week after an unexpected defeat in the House, it looks like these provisions are going to be renewed: there's one more House vote to be taken, but it's largely expected to pass, then on to President Obama's desk for signing.

Here's the Washington Post on the three provisions that are likely to be renewed:

One of the provisions authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access "any tangible items," such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and the third is a "lone wolf" provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

As expected, new Freshman Senator Rand Paul (R-Kent.) made a principled stand against the renewal of these provisions:

We should have the opportunity to explain why the Constitution is being violated. We should talk about how we do not have to give up who we are in order to fight terrorism. It is not acceptable to willfully ignore the most basic provisions of our Constitution—in this case—the Fourth and First Amendments—in the name of ‘security.’

An unexpected vote against the PATRIOT Act renewal came from Freshman Sen. and Tea Party Caucus member Mike Lee (R-Utah). Overall, the measure passed by a vote of 86-12.

The expected dissent of Sen. Paul and the unexpected dissent of Sen. Lee mean that two of the three founding members of the Tea Party Caucus broke GOP lines to join with civil libertarians in opposing the PATRIOT Act. This might come as a surprise to some on the Left.


Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has claimed that the Tea Party movement "represents an intensification of the ideological forces withing the Republican Party, not a change." Before last night, there had never been a single GOP vote against the PATRIOT Act in the Senate. Two of the three founders of the Tea Party Caucus voted against it, and two of the thirteen Freshmen GOP Sens. Opposition to the PATRIOT Act extension more than doubled in the House, from 10 votes against reauthorization in 2010 to 26 last week. Now this isn't a complete overturn of sentiment towards civil liberties from some of the Tea Party-identified members of Congress - but it's not nothing.

The Tea Party movement isn't a homogenous ideological force; it's an amorphous cloud of anti-government sentiment that sometimes coalesces and sometimes clashes. What it isn't is "an intensification of the Republican Party." It's pretty clear that the entrenched GOP has at least been warned.

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