Congressional leaders have worked out a deal for a four-year extension of several key provisions of the Patriot Act, with a little over a week remaining until the current measure extending the counterterrorism surveillance law is set to expire.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reached an agreement Thursday on a clean extension — one with no amendments attached — of three major Patriot Act provisions until June 1, 2015, according to a senior Democratic aide. The Senate will take up the measure first, with the vote on ending debate slated for next Monday and a final-passage vote possible Wednesday. The House would then follow suit by the end of the week.
“The Speaker supports this common-sense proposal because this law has been crucial to detecting and disrupting terrorist plots and protecting the American people,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.
It was unclear Thursday evening whether House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was on board with the agreement. A Pelosi spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Leadership aides acknowledge that next week’s votes will probably be difficult ones for many members, particularly in the House, where Republicans are likely to need the votes of some Democrats in order to pass the measure. More than two dozen House Republicans voted against the three-month extension in February.
The three provisions, which are set to expire May 27, include one that authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; another that allows the government to access “any tangible items,” such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and a “lone wolf” provision that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.
Many Republicans had been pushing for a permanent, or at least a longer-term, extension of the expiring provisions. Most Democrats had preferred a shorter-term extension of several years.
Members of both parties, however — including liberal Democrats as well as libertarian-leaning Republicans — have opposed an extension of any length, arguing that the three controversial Patriot Act provisions represent a violation of Americans’ civil liberties in the name of national security.
That opposition was on display in February, when a House Republican-led effort to fast-track a one-year extension of the expiring provisions unexpectedly fell short of the two-thirds necessary for passage.
Both chambers later passed a three-month extension, an 11th-hour compromise agreed to by leaders in order to give newer lawmakers — especially the 87 members of the House Republican freshman class — a chance to get up to speed on the legislation.
Since then, congressional leaders have dedicated several hearings and briefings to the issue. The latest came last Friday, when FBI Director Robert Mueller gave a classified briefing to House Republican members.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a conservative freshman who attended Mueller’s briefing, said last Friday that he was leaning toward voting against any extension of the provisions, although he was “still studying the issues.”
“My concern is: I understand that we need to protect our homeland, but at the same time, we need to protect the privacy and liberty of our constituents,” Labrador said. “There’s a fundamental misunderstanding that some people have that when somebody votes ‘no,’ it’s because they don’t understand the issue. Many of us had studied the issue before we came to Congress, and I think we understood it. But I think it’s always great to have more information, especially when you’re briefed by the men and women who are actually working with the act.”