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Posted at 07:04 PM ET, 05/23/2011

Senate votes to proceed on four-year reauthorization of key Patriot Act provisions

The Senate voted Monday to end debate on a measure that would extend key provisions of the Patriot Act until June 1, 2015, setting up a final-passage vote on the counterterrorism surveillance law for as soon as Wednesday.

A bipartisan group of 74 senators voted to end debate. Eight senators, including three Republicans and five members who caucus with Democrats, voted against ending debate, and 18 senators – 12 Republicans and six Democrats – were not present to vote.

Monday’s Senate vote marked a rare instance of leaders of both parties lining up behind the same measure: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who last week worked out a deal on the four-year extension, both voted in favor of ending debate.

“Our country faces a sophisticated, lethal threat from al-Qaeda, associate groups and self-radicalized terrorists,” McConnell said in a statement. “The Patriot Act is one of the critical tools for keeping America safe. This bipartisan extension provides the intelligence and law enforcement communities stability for the next few years in the use of these tools as they confront the threats that face the nation. We should not let these authorities lapse or make them more difficult to use.”

The White House indicated Monday that it “strongly supports” the reauthorization of the three Patriot Act provisions.

The wide margin of victory means that passage is all but assured when the measure comes up for a final vote this week. The tougher battle is likely to be in the House, where Republicans may need the votes of Democrats in order to pass the bill. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday at his weekly roundtable that “we’ll have the votes to pass the Senate bill.”

It remains unclear whether the Senate will consider any amendments to the measure. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a strong Patriot Act critic who voted against ending debate, said in a statement that he has offered eight amendments aimed at curtailing the government’s surveillance authority, including one that Paul is co-sponsoring with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The eight no votes on Monday night were Paul and Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Six of the eight voted no to the previous extension in February. Murkowski had voted yes in February, and Heller, who was sworn into the Senate earlier this month, was still a member of the House (he had voted no as a House member).

The 18 who did not vote on Monday were Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Thad Cochrad (R-Miss.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

By  |  07:04 PM ET, 05/23/2011

 
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