March 2, 2006
We're obviously disappointed with today's vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act without common sense reforms to ensure that anti-terrorism resources are focused on agents of al Qaeda, and not used to invade the private financial, medical, library and internet records of ordinary Americans.
We applaud the valiant efforts of Senators Feingold and others to include truly effective civil liberties safeguards. Notably, Senators Feingold, Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jim Jeffords (I-VT), and the dean of the Senate, Robert Byrd (D-WV), voted against final passage.
And in recent days, Senator Durbin (D-IL), Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter (R-PA), and Congresswoman Jane Harman and others, have reiterated the need to reform the law to better protect civil liberties, regardless of the vote's outcome.
One thread of the debate remains unresolved, as the adjustments in the Sununu amendment, including a small change to National Security Letter rules, may or may not reach a House vote before the bill reaches the president's desk.
We will continue to press for needed reforms to protect American freedoms. But we're sadly aware that in some ways the debate over reform may itself be completely moot. Until the Bush administration stops the illegal NSA program to spy on Americans, and stops ignoring the rule of law, any reforms to the Patriot Act may simply go unheeded under the extreme view of unlimited power embraced by this president.
Congress must restore the rule of law and insist that Americans' rights be protected. Our great nation can, and must, be both safe and free.
Together with our allies on the right and the left, we have made tremendous progress over the past four years. The Bush administration had sought a repeat of 2001, when the Patriot Act was passed quickly with little debate and only a few courageous dissenters. But the national debate over the secret search powers expanded by the Patriot Act has come a long way.
Our efforts achieved a legislative impact that many, if not most, people thought was impossible. A bipartisan group of 52 Senators was willing to stand up to the administration and filibuster the bill last year. And we saw an exponential increase in the number of members of Congress willing to stand against the bill until it is reformed to fully protect fundamental American values.
More than ever before, we need the support of conscientious Americans to help us continue to fight. We need a special prosecutor to investigate the NSA spying. We need to hold Congress's feet to the fire on hearings. And, once we've done that, we need to truly reform the Patriot Act, so that our civil liberties are protected and the law's provisions lie within the bounds of the Constitution.