(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders was at the lead of an unsuccessful effort to roll back part of the USA Patriot Act. The Republican-led House bowed to a White House veto threat and defeated Sanders’ effort to remove the part of the anti-terrorism law that helps the government investigate people’s reading habits. As Chad Pergram of the Capitol Hill Bureau reports, supporters of the amendment reacted strongly to tactics used in the voting process.
(Democrats yelling) “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!”
(Pergram) Democrats erupted when Republicans held the vote open. Sanders’ proposal would have prevented the government from using the Patriot Act to obtain records from bookstores and libraries.
As many as 219 members voted for Sanders’ plan, but then Republicans held the vote open and successfully twisted enough arms to defeat his amendment. The Vermont congressman was outraged:
(Sanders) “You know, at the end of nine innings if the Yankees are ahead, they win the game. Well at the end of the allotted time, we were ahead – not by one vote, but by 15 or 16 votes. So what they simply decided to say was, we’re not going to allow the gavel fall. We’re going to keep the gavel open and the rolls open for as long as it takes to twist arms.”
(Pergram) The final vote was 210 to 210 with one Democrat voting ‘present.’ By House rules, tie votes go down to defeat. Sanders compared this vote to one last year when Republicans held open a vote to reform Medicare a record three hours.
(Sanders) “This should give the American people a clue about the Republican leadership’s belief in basic democratic rights. What happened today was an insult to the House of Representatives and American democracy.”
(Pergram) Voting time in the House of Representatives regularly bleeds over the standard of 15 to 17 minutes. But House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California argued this blatantly abused the rules:
(Pelosi) “Mr. Speaker, in a previous response to a parliamentary inquiry you said that you would keep the vote open as long as there were members in the well wishing to vote. That case does not exist at this time, so when will you be gaveling this vote down?”
(Pergram) Bernie Sanders says a determined majority can bend the rules to their liking in the House:
(Sanders) “It’s legal because they have the judge and the jury. They hold the gavel. Of course it’s not legal – the rules very clear. Seventeen minutes is what we got.”
(Pergram) A spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hasterdt defended the GOP’s tactics, saying the vote really wasn’t open that long.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Chad Pergram on Capitol Hill.