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Said a Republican leadership aide: “If the Democrats think this is a political win for them, I’m feeling much better about 2006. The minute they start debating us on the Patriot Act, we win. This is our issue.”

Mr. Bush issued a statement crediting the Patriot Act with protecting “American liberty” and saving “American lives” since its passage after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“These senators need to understand that the Patriot Act expires in 15 days, but the terrorist threat to America will not expire on that schedule,” Mr. Bush said. “The terrorists want to attack America again and kill the innocent and inflict even greater damage than they did on September 11th — and the Congress has a responsibility not to take away this vital tool … to protect the American people.”

Before yesterday’s vote, opponents of the legislation rallied around a front page article in Thursday’s New York Times that reported Mr. Bush had secretly lifted certain limits on spying inside the United States. After more than a year holding the story, the paper decided to run it on the day of the Patriot Act vote.