Republicans Turn on the Patriot Act

Was the House's defeat of extending the anti-terrorism law a Tea Party triumph in defending civil liberties?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Why did 26 House Republicans vote to block reauthorization of the Patriot Act? The Bush-era law, which gives the government broad surveillance powers, has been hated by the lefties and libertarians for years. Ahead of the vote, Rep. Dennis Kucinich said it would be the Constitution-loving "Tea Party's first test." Well, did they pass?

Maybe? During the last fall's election campaign, the Tea Party talked a good game about freedom and respect for America's founding documents, and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul--one of only three Republican congressmen to oppose the Patriot Act in 2001--is considered a founding father of the movement. But of the 26 Republicans who voted down the bill--which allowed the secret FISA court to continue granting roving wiretaps, warrants for all kinds of records (library, medical, etc.), and warrants to monitor someone without evidence he's working for some kind of foreign entity--only eight were freshmen. In fact, 44 of the 52 members of the Tea Party caucus voted for the extension. Plus, two of the nays were establishment Republicans weighing Senate campaigns.

So if the dreaded Big Brother bill wasn't temporarily slayed for the sake of civil liberties (and it was temporary--Republicans will surely bring it up again under different rules so only a simple majority is needed to pass it), why did so many vote against it? It might have more to do with the guy in the White House and the defeat of many moderates in the midterms. As Geoff notes at Ace of Spades HQ, last year, the extension passed fairly easily--in part because almost two-thirds of Democrats voted for it, as did 94 percent of Republicans. This year, 89 percent of Republicans voted for it, while just 35 percent of Democrats did so. Maybe some GOP n00bs just don't trust Obama with all that hopey changey wiretappy stuff.

  • The Real Tea Party Angle, Hot Air's Allahpundit explains, is "that there wasn’t more opposition among the GOP freshmen: After months of rhetoric about government intrusion and hand-wringing on both sides about Obama’s expansion of Bush’s counterterror powers — to the point where U.S. citizens like Awlaki are now marked for death by presidential decree--they had some political cover to draw the line on extending parts of the Patriot Act further if they wanted to. ... Nope."
  • Nice Symbolism, Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis writes. The Patriot Act will be extended soon. "Nonetheless. it’s good to see some of the newly election Republicans standing up to their party. and standing for civil liberties."
  • Embarrassing for Obama, Michael J. W. Stickings writes at The Reaction. "Look, I'm a proud Democrat, but where Republicans deserve praise I'll happily give it. ... And shame, too, on President Obama... he's enthusiastically keeping much of the Bush-Cheney national security state in place -- so much for all that change we thought we might be able to believe in. ... When Rand Paul and Tea Party House Republicans make you look bad, you know you're doing something horribly wrong."
  • Opposing the Patriot Act Now Less Politically Toxic, National Journal's Josh Kraushaar notes. Some are crediting the Tea Party with blocking reauthorization. "But in reality, the Republican opposition was much more mainstream"--Reps. Connie Mack of Florida and and Dean Heller of Nevada, both considering running for Senate. Mack "has been positioning himself as a center-right candidate on immigration," while Heller represents a more libertarian state.  So what's more interesting than the Tea Party vote "is that two Republican politicians with their eye on the Senate prize don't think they will take a political hit by voting against their party's signature national security initiative."
  • GOP Leaders Didn't See This Coming, Politico's Jake Sherman and Marin Cogan report. As a Democratic aide explained, "Governing 101: make sure you have the votes. Governing 102: make sure you understand your own members."
  • This Wasn't the Real Tea Party Test, The Washington Post's Stephen Stromberg argues. That comes later--"when Republicans closer to the mainstream of the party press divisive social issues that really drive powerful GOP interest groups: Gay marriage, abortion rights, the separation of church and state. My hunch is that there won't be as many Tea Party votes on the side of government non-intrusion then."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.