Debate to Continue on Patriot Act, Spending
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The senators who are filibustering must stop their delaying tactics, and the Senate must vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act. In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment.
SIMON: President Bush speaking this morning from the Roosevelt Room at the White House. On Friday, a bipartisan Senate filibuster blocked passage of the Patriot Act amid new concerns over domestic espionage sanctioned by the White House. NPR's David Welna has this report.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Most of the provisions in the Patriot Act that Congress approved four years ago are now permanent, but 16 of its most controversial measures expire two weeks from now. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist argued that approving a bill renewing those provisions is vital to national security.
Senator BILL FRIST (Majority Leader): The choice is clear. Should we take a step forward in making America safer or should we go back to the pre-9/11 days when terrorists slipped through the cracks?
WELNA: But Senate Democrats joined by a few Republicans argued the bill renewing the Patriot Act still has too few safeguards for civil liberties. They also pointed to a front-page story in yesterday's New York Times reporting that the Bush White House has for the past four years authorized the National Security Agency to carry out domestic surveillance without the required approval from a special court. Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy said that court was set up after the NSA spied on anti-war activists in the 1970s.
Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Now this administration believes it's above even those protections. This is Big Brother run amuck. With these new developments, we must take a step back and not rush the Patriot Act, further risking our civil protections.
WELNA: And even though Senator Arlen Specter is the chief sponsor of the Patriot Act renewal, the Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee was also outraged by the domestic spying report.
Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): Let me agree with the senators who have spoken out very sharply in opposition to the disclosures in the press this morning about, quote, "President Bush lets US spy on callers without courts," close quote. That's wrong, clearly categorically wrong.
WELNA: The GOP leadership needed 60 votes to get cloture, which ends the filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal. But it only got 52 votes. Four Republicans, including New Hampshire's John Sununu, joined all but two Senate Democrats in blocking the bill.
Senator JOHN SUNUNU (Republican, New Hampshire): I think our leadership in the White House--I didn't even expect this vote to be close three days ago. I think that's reflective of their reluctance to get engaged with the bipartisan group.
WELNA: Majority Leader Frist refused to consider a three-month extension of the current Patriot Act that would allow further negotiations. Instead, he said he'll leave the rejected bill on the floor for further debate and consideration.
Sen. FRIST: If the chairman does fully explain this bill and people really understand it, I am very optimistic that we would be able to both get cloture, but ultimately pass this bill before we leave here in the next couple of days.
WELNA: But that chairman, Arlen Specter, was skeptical about the chances for rallying more support.
Sen. SPECTER: I'm not going to make any allusions to changing any minds by additional debate, but we have time to debate.
WELNA: Fourteen more holiday season days to be precise. Republican leaders say if the Patriot Act's provisions do expire at the end of the year, blame the Democrats. Democrats say it will be the Republicans' fault for not allowing more negotiations. David Welna, NPR News.