House Republicans renew press for Patriot Act reauthorization

In the week after train and bus bombings in downtown London that seized world attention, House Republican leaders are hoping that Democratic criticism of unfunded rail security will translate into strong support for reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act.

The controversial legislation is scheduled to be marked up this morning, and a House vote is expected sometime next week.

patrick g. ryan
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)


Over the weekend, Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), demanded that President Bush and Republicans in Congress address the issue of transit security.

House Democrats also released a report by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and minority staff on the House Committee on Homeland Security that outlined proposed improvements to the nation’s commuter rail systems and cited particular fundraising shortfalls by the administration.

Republican House leaders hope they can re-focus this rhetoric and make it more difficult for the Democrats to oppose the Patriot Act reauthorization.

“We want to channel their energy to be productive instead of redundant,” said one Republican House leadership aide. “We want them to get behind one of the central objectives of fighting the war on terrorism, and that’s reauthorizing the Patriot Act.”

To this point, Democratic leaders have not spoken in support of the act and have indeed been critical of it. They are not expected to fall quickly into line.

“Republicans would be better served making necessary investments to protect the American people from terrorism rather than threatening their civil liberties,” said Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for Pelosi, referring specifically to shortfalls that Democrats descry in transportation, border and port security.

With the reauthorization, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is expected to try to repeal the sunset on 16 provisions of the Patriot Act, which he helped write after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, as well as two provisions from last year’s intelligence reauthorization bill.

He also intends to make small changes to existing provisions, including the provision that allows investigators to access library records, said committee spokesman Jeff Lungren.

Last month, the House voted to repeal, 238-187, in an amendment to an appropriations bill offered by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) despite threats of a presidential veto.
During debate about the Sanders amendment, Pelosi said, “We should not simply extend all of these provisions, but we should have extensive hearings on the Patriot Act, vigorous oversight, and modifications to prevent abuses of our civil liberties. Unfortunately, these essential objectives are not being met by the Republican leadership.”

The London attacks have given security issues increased momentum on Capitol Hill, as Democrats illustrate shortfalls and Republicans cite changes that have been made.

“We need more from them than political rhetoric,” said Ron Bonjean, the spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).  “What we need is Democratic leadership to help reauthorize the Patriot Act before it expires because terrorist threats against America will not expire at the end of the year.”

Bonjean also said the terrorist attacks were a stark reminder of the threats that Americans may face.

Republican Conference members are expected to address national security issues throughout the week in floor statements and press releases. In them, they will cite the $14 billion that has already been allocated to state and local governments for first-responder units, as well as other government programs that have been established by the Republican-led Congress since Sept. 11.

Support for the act is hardening among Republicans across the board. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), a centrist who often defies leadership, supported reauthorization of the Patriot Act during an appearance over the weekend on Fox News. Shays did concede, though, that programs had not been properly funded.