Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Four Senate Republicans are defying their leadership and President Bush on renewing the USA Patriot Act because they say it lacks enough civil-liberties protection.

While one of those Republicans — Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska — is often a public thorn in the side of leadership and Mr. Bush, the other three rarely take center stage as Republican renegades. Sens. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Larry E. Craig of Idaho and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska all vote with Republican leadership more than 90 percent of the time, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly.

“Back in July, we supported a bipartisan compromise reauthorization bill that passed the Senate by unanimous consent,” Mr. Sununu and the others said in a joint statement. “While that bill did not contain everything we would have wanted, it took important steps to protect the freedoms of innocent Americans.”

Mr. Craig is widely regarded among conservatives for his civil libertarian stance on many issues, such as gun rights. Mr. Sununu and Mrs. Murkowski hail from states with independent electorates.

“President Bush is right when he says we cannot afford to go one moment without the tools that the Patriot Act provides,” Mr. Craig said after successfully blocking the proposal. “However, we must strike a balance in the law, so our law-enforcement officials have all the necessary tools to fight terrorism, while Americans’ civil liberties have all the protection they need, as well.”

In particular, opponents such as Mr. Craig said the proposed version allows “the government to obtain library, medical and gun records and other sensitive personal information … without demonstrating specific reasons to believe that person is connected to a suspected terrorist or spy.”

But most Senate conservatives who are generally suspicious of the federal government say the new version of the USA Patriot Act being filibustered has far more civil-liberties protection than any viable alternative or even current law.

“During World War II, the War Powers Act was passed,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “That makes this bill look like the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union].”

In the struggle between the rule of law and civil liberties, Mr. Graham said Congress has reached a “balance.”

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, who favors a bill that would give law enforcement much greater latitude, said the proposal includes 15 major changes to current law that improve civil-liberties protection.

“This is a compromise,” he said. “It is much more sympathetic to civil-liberties issues than the current law is.”

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