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Bipartisanship Forms on Both Sides of PATRIOT Act Extension

Not everything in Washington, D.C., is partisan.

A small, bipartisan group of Senators formed Monday in an unsuccessful attempt to block a reauthorization of the Sept. 11-era anti-terrorism law known as the USA PATRIOT Act. Despite the group’s opposition, the Senate agreed 74-8 to the motion to proceed to a simple-majority, up-or-down vote on the reauthorization. Eighteen Senators did not vote.

Freshman Sen. Rand Paul helped lead the opposition. The Kentucky Republican was joined by Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), and Republican Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats, also voted against the motion.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy voted with the majority to proceed, but the Vermont Democrat said he would likely vote against reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act on final passage. Leahy said he would support the measure if it includes an amendment he has sponsored with Paul to alter the domestic surveillance legislation, but he conceded it is unlikely to be adopted.

“If that amendment passes, it would be a much better bill and then I could support it,” Leahy said following the Monday evening vote.

Paul is angling to prod leadership into a longer “discussion” of the PATRIOT Act and votes on amendments. The Kentucky Republican said he has been promised some amendments and expects leadership to deliver. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are both strong supporters of the reauthorization.

“I’ll make them drag it out if I don’t get amendments,” Paul said.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein said the debate over the PATRIOT Act is one of the few major issues to engender both bipartisan support and opposition. The California Democrat chalked the opposition up to mutual concerns about privacy and government intrusiveness, although she said those worries, while understandable, are misplaced.

“In this case, you’ve got a whole court system set up to protect rights,” she said.

The law was enacted in the wake of al-Qaida’s 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and Monday’s vote came three weeks after U.S. forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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