The House voted Thursday to extend the USA Patriot Act, the nation’s main anti-terrorism tool, just hours after televisions in the Capitol beamed images of a new attack in London.
As similar legislation worked its way through the Senate, House Republicans generally cast the law as a valuable asset in the war on terror. Most Democrats echoed that support but said they were concerned the law could allow citizens’ civil liberties to be infringed.
Following more than nine hours of debate, the House approved the measure 257-171. Forty-three Democrats joined 214 Republicans in voting to renew key provisions of Patriot Act that were set to expire at the end of the year.
The bulk of the back-and-forth centered on language making permanent 14 of 16 provisions that had four-year sunset provisions under the original law, which Congress passed overwhelmingly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The bill also proposed 10-year extensions to the two other provisions set to expire on December 31, one allowing roving wiretaps and another allowing searches of library and medical records. They were the focus of most of the controversy as members plowed through the main legislation and 18 amendments.
“While the Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism initiatives have helped avert additional attacks on our soil, the threat has not receded,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.