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House Passes PATRIOT Act Bill That Caught GOP Leaders Off Guard

The House passed an extension of three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act with little fanfare Monday night, almost a week after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suffered his first public legislative defeat of the 112th Congress when GOP leaders failed to muster a two-thirds majority the first time they tried to pass the measure.

The PATRIOT Act extension was passed 275-144, with 27 Republicans opposing the measure and 65 Democrats supporting it.

Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith urged the Senate to act on the measure.

“Numerous terrorist attempts in the last ten years have been thwarted thanks to the intelligence-gathering tools provided in the PATRIOT Act and other national security laws,” the Texas Republican said in a statement Monday. “If Congress fails to extend these expiring provisions, it will be on our shoulders if the intelligence needed to stop the next attack is not collected.”

House GOP leaders had tried to expedite passage of the measure, which is time sensitive because the provisions expire at month’s end, by bringing it up on Feb. 8 under suspension of the rules, a process that requires a two-thirds majority for passage. The measure was rejected amid opposition from 26 Republicans and 122 Democrats, more than 30 of whom Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) contended had supported a similar extension in the past.

GOP leaders opted to bring the measure up Monday under a rule, which requires just a simple majority for passage.

Before the vote on passage, Republicans defeated a Democratic motion to recommit. It would have amended the bill to stipulate that the government must comply with the Constitution when investigating U.S. citizens and to expedite court challenges to the government’s use of the PATRIOT Act brought by U.S. citizens. The Democratic proposal failed 186-234.

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Republicans who opposed the Democrats’ proposal put “party loyalty ahead of their oath to defend and protect the Constitution.” Republican leaders have made deference to the Constitution a theme of their new majority.

“We are all united in our commitment to protect our country against its enemies, but the motion to recommit ensures that PATRIOT Act powers are not used to violate the constitutional freedoms and protections guaranteed to all Americans,” Elshami said.

Democrats have been working hard to use their motions to recommit to put Republicans on the defensive.

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