- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

The House yesterday defied President Bush and voted to make the first changes to the Patriot Act by prohibiting authorities from obtaining records on library and bookstore patrons.

The change, which passed 238-187 as an amendment to a larger spending bill, comes as both chambers of Congress are debating the future of the Patriot Act and whether to extend 16 provisions that will expire at the end of this year unless both houses and the president approve their extension.

Yesterday’s vote indicates that Mr. Bush will not win extension of all the provisions when Congress votes specifically on reauthorizing the 16 provisions later this year.

“It’s a statement to the president of the United States and to the Republican leadership that you have a strong tripartisan coalition that is saying, ‘We are going to do everything we can to protect the American people from terrorism, but we are going to do it in a way that does not undermine our rights as a free country,’ ” said Rep. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and the amendment’s chief sponsor.

His provision would prohibit law enforcement from asking a special court for an order to search “library circulation records, library patron lists, book sales records or book customer lists.”

Those who fought for the amendment said that under the Patriot Act, all the FBI had to do was tell the special court it was investigating terrorism and the court would have to issue the subpoena. They said authorities can still use regular courts and grand jury subpoenas to get information.

“Make your case, and of course we want you to go in there, but you just can’t go on a fishing expedition,” Mr. Sanders said.

But Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, said it was better to err on the side of caution than to risk another terrorist attack.

“I don’t want to make a mistake that may very well lead to something else happening,” he said, urging the House to wait and let the Judiciary Committee finish its examination of all 16 expiring Patriot Act provisions later this year.

Those who fought the change said it hampers the ability to stop terrorists before they attack, since a criminal investigation has to be open in order to use a regular court or grand jury.

Opponents also said the list of exceptions gives terrorists a road map of places that are safe from investigation.

“I find it amazing we want a free zone in the bookstore. I find it amazing we want a free zone in the library,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican.

Thirty-eight Republicans joined 199 Democrats and Mr. Sanders in supporting the amendment, while just one Democrat voted with 186 Republicans against it.

Rep. C.L. “Butch” Otter, Idaho Republican, said the framers of the Constitution would have opposed going as far as Congress did with the Patriot Act.

“They didn’t intend for the lawyers to rule this country. Obviously, when we adopted the Patriot Act 46 days after 9/11, the lawyers won,” he said.

The vote came a day after Mr. Bush told congressional Republicans, at a fundraising dinner, to keep the Patriot Act intact.

“It gives those folks who are on the front line of fighting terror many of the same tools that are used to track down drug kingpins or tax cheats. If those tools are good enough to track down drug kingpins, they ought to be good enough in this war on terror to give to our law enforcement so we can better defend this country,” he said.

Earlier this week the administration released a policy statement threatening a veto of the bill, and last night a White House spokeswoman said it will continue to fight for all Patriot Act provisions.

“Section 215 of the Patriot Act provides national security investigators with an important tool for investigating and intercepting terrorism while at the same time establishing strong safeguards to protect law-abiding Americans,” Dana Perino said. “We will continue to work with Congress to ensure full reauthorization of the Patriot Act.”

Even as the House voted against one of Mr. Bush’s policies, it upheld two others. It backed his position prohibiting medical use of marijuana and, for the first time in his administration, supported his policy limiting economic contacts with Cuba by turning back an amendment to allow U.S. residents to ship personal care items like toothpaste to Cuba.

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