House Defeats Sanders’ Patriot Act Amendment

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(Host) In a highly contentious and partisan debate Thursday afternoon, the U.S. House defeated an effort by Congressman Bernie Sanders to make changes to the USA Patriot Act. Sanders wanted to remove a provision of the law that allows the federal government to seek information from libraries and book stores about an individual’s reading habits.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When time expired on the House voting clock, it appeared that the Sanders amendment had passed. The proposal had a 15 vote margin of victory with only 14 members left to vote on the measure. But then eight Republicans changed their vote and the House was tied 210 to 210 on this issue. House Democratic leaders were livid that the vote had been held open beyond its deadline to allow GOP members to switch their votes. Because the amendment didn’t receive a majority vote it was defeated.

The Patriot Act, which was passed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, gives the federal government expanded power to investigate and detain suspected terrorists. The Act also allows the FBI to gather information from libraries and bookstores about a person’s reading habits.

Speaking on the House floor, Sanders argued that this provision was unnecessary and was an invasion of privacy:

(Sanders) “The FBI will still have many legal tools at its disposal as it always has, including search warrants and criminal grand juries, subpoenas to obtain library and bookstore records. Mr. Chairman, we have an opportunity today to show the American people, yes we’re going to fight terrorism vigorously but we are going to do it while we protect the constitutional rights of our people. Conservatives, progressives moderates agree let’s pass this amendment.”

(Kinzel) Sanders offered his amendment to a $39 billion appropriations bill that provides funds for the Departments of State, Justice and Commerce. House members who opposed the plan argued that it had nothing to do with the budget bill and they said it should be part of Congress’s overall review of the Patriot Act next year.

The White House also made it very clear to House members that President Bush would veto the bill if the Sanders amendment was part of it. Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays urged House members to reject Sanders’ amendment because it would undermine efforts to apprehend terrorists:

(Shays) “And we’re going to tie their hands behind their backs and say, we’ve got to let a terrorist know first, I am not yielding. And then we’re going to let a terrorist know first before we break into the cell. You can throw your hands anyway you want, Mr. Sanders, but the bottom line is we are at war with terrorists and we want to break into those cells. We want to detect what’s going on and we sure as hell don’t want to tell.”

(Kinzel) Following the vote Sanders said the House Speaker’s decision to leave the vote open was an abuse of power that subverts the will of the majority in the House.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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