House Unexpectedly Defeats Patriot Act

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It was the Congressional version of never count your chickens before they're hatched.

And when you do on Capitol Hill, you can sometimes lose a vote.

The newly-minted House Republican leadership botched a vote Tuesday night when it presumed it had the necessary support to reauthorize the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism law imposed after September 11th.

The GOP expected little trouble with the bill. So Republicans brought the Patriot Act to the floor under a special procedure that requires a two-thirds vote for passage. It's a maneuver that's typically reserved for non-controversial legislation or bills that carry wide support.

Renewing that Patriot Act had certainly had wide support. 277 members voted in favor of the measure compared to just 148 nays.

But that's short of the two-thirds supermajority. Which means the House defeated the bill.

With 425 members voting, 284 yea votes were necessary to cross the two-thirds threshold for passage. 26 Republicans voted against renewing the law.

Democrats opposed to the Patriot Act were gleeful at the GOP miscalculation.

"Look at the ‘Don't Tread on Me flag.' It doesn't say don't tread on me, but it's okay if you spy," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), one of the most ardent opponents of the Patriot Act. "What the Republican leadership didn't count on is that they have some new members who are freshmen who are conservative, libertarian, who really do believe in civil liberties."

Eight Republicans whom the GOP regards as freshmen voted against the reauthorization. That's precisely the number of yea votes Republicans needed to pass the bill.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) used to set the schedule when Democrats were in the majority and is familiar with floor meltdowns like the one Tuesday night.

"Been there, done that," said Hoyer. "It's clear they are going to have to work it out."

But despite the misstep, Republicans blamed Democrats for the defeat.

"I am surprised that so many Democrats who supported an extension of these very same provisions last Congress suddenly changed their votes," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). "President Obama supports a reauthorization of these important national security tools."

Under most circumstances, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is charged with ensuring that his party has the votes to pass a bill. But it's rare for the whip to twist arms on a measure handled like this one on the floor because it's usually a fait accompli.

"Today, Democrats in Congress voted to deny their own administration's request for key weapons in the war on terror," said McCarthy spokeswoman Erica Elliott.

The House crafted the legislation to extend three key surveillance mechanisms that are set to expire at the end of the month.

The Senate wants to create longer-term fixes to the Patriot Act, rather than just renewing these narrow portions.

This bill would have okayed "roving" wiretaps and granted law enforcement personnel the right to search library records. Another provision would permit police to monitor so-called "lone wolves." Intelligence officials fear that individuals not affiliated with any terrorist organization could act alone and concoct their own plot.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) opposes a permanant extension of the sections set to expire.

"Instead, I support strengthening oversight and providing the intelligence community the certainty it needs to protect national security," Leahy said in a statement.

It's unclear when the House will take the mulligan and try to pass the bill again. With 277 votes in favor of reauthorizing the Patriot Act, there is enough support to approve the bill under the traditional system that requires only a simple majority for passage.