Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today inserted the following remarks into the Congressional Record on the vote to end debate on the revised PATRIOT Act. Last year, Republicans and Democrats joined together to force improvements to the bill before its reauthorization. Though the resulting compromise has improved the bill, further debate could still make it better. But though there is no conflict between offering a few amendments to the PATRIOT Act and passing it promptly, Senate Majority Leader Frist has denied Senators their right to debate. Senator Reid voted to oppose cloture in protest, though he will vote to support the PATRIOT Act when it comes to a final vote.
The Senator’s remarks follow below.
STATEMENT OF SENATOR REID OPPOSING CLOTURE ON THE PATRIOT ACT AMENDMENTS BILL (S. 2271)
I rise to explain why I will oppose cloture on the PATRIOT Act Amendments Act. In brief, I will vote against cloture to register my objection to the procedural maneuver under which Senators have been blocked from offering any amendments to this bill.
While I will vote against cloture, I nonetheless support the underlying bill offered by the Senator from New Hampshire, which improves the PATRIOT Act. The Sununu bill puts in place more checks on the expanded authorities granted to the government by the PATRIOT Act, without interfering with the government’s ability to protect Americans from terrorism.
I support the PATRIOT Act. I voted for it in 2001, and I voted for a reauthorization bill that passed the Senate unanimously last summer. In December, however, I voted against cloture on a conference report to reauthorize the PATRIOT ACT. I opposed that bill because it returned from the House-Senate conference without adequate checks to protect the privacy of innocent Americanrs.
In my view Congress should give the Executive Branch the tools it needs to fight terrorism, combined with strong oversight to protect against government overreaching and abuse of these tools.
Now Sen. Sununu has negotiated several needed improvements with the White House. His bill would allow for judicial review of the gag order imposed by the PATRIOT Act when the government seeks business records. It would also restrict federal access to library records, and it would eliminate the requirement that recipients of a national security letter tell the FBI the identity of any lawyer they consult.
The Sununu bill is a step in the right direction, and therefore I will support it.
Of course even a good bill can be improved. That is why we have an amendment process in the Senate. The junior Senator from Wisconsin has tried to offer a small number of relevant amendments that I believe would make this bill even better. I am disappointed that he has been denied that opportunity by a procedural maneuver known as “filling the amendment tree.”
This is a very bad practice. It runs against the basic nature of the Senate. The hallmark of the Senate is free speech and open debate. Rule 22 establishes a process for cutting off debate and amendments, but Rule 22 should rarely be invoked before any amendments have been offered. There is no reason to truncate Senate debate on this important bill in this unusual fashion.
I will vote against cloture to register my objection to this flawed process.
I expect that cloture will be invoked and that the Sununu bill will pass. I also expect that the PATRIOT Act reauthorization will pass, now that it has been improved. But the passage of these measures should not be the end of our work. The Senate should continue the effort to strengthen civil liberties in the war on terror.
I welcome Senator Specter’s bill which includes many of the improvements Senator Feingold seeks. I look forward to working with him to have his legislation enacted into law as soon as possible.
In this and other areas, we should give the government the tools it needs to protect our national security, while placing sensible checks on the arbitrary exercise of executive power.