Patriot Games

by Robert Costa

On Monday night, the House GOP splintered. Twenty-six Republicans, including eight freshmen, joined with Democrats to oppose a one-year extension of some of the surveillance authorities granted by the USA Patriot Act, a counterterrorism law that was passed in the wake of 9/11.

“Believe me, House leadership was caught off guard,” says one Republican committee aide. “They really thought that they had everybody contained. They knew there would be a few defections, but they did not expect this group to try and out–Tea Party one another. The Ron Paul influence, especially on civil liberties, is stronger than you think.”

Monday’s vote was proffered under a suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority. Other House GOP aides tell NRO that the extension will likely brought up again via “regular orders” in the coming weeks; this requires a simple majority, and they expect it to pass.

The White House, one aide points out, will now be forced to work with Congress, especially with three provisions set to expire on February 28. The House GOP would like to extend the provisions until December 8; Senate Democrats and the White House would prefer extending the provisions through 2013, in order to take it off of the table for the election.

With the clock ticking, Republicans believe they can set the stakes, regardless of how they stumbled on the initial vote. On Monday, an aide close to the process notes, many Democrats who are supportive of a one-year extension voted against it, in order to stand with those who would like to see the provisions extended through 2013. So while Republicans will be whipping hard, to be sure, Democrats, too, he predicts, will be having their own internal debate about a short-term extension.

Both parties, another adds, are confident that they can cobble together enough votes for an extension through December 8, making the argument to members that the Intelligence and Judiciary committees need more time to mull the provisions. Democrats would give up their hope for a 2013 extension and GOP hawks would give up their hopes for a permanent extension.