House Democrats have voted to keep funding the PATRIOT Act in a flurry of partisan hypocrisy. The surveillance legislation that should have every person fearing for their rights and privacy was recently shoehorned through the House, folded into a resolution to keep the federal government funded for three more months. The spending bill was pushed through with not a single Republican vote.
The PATRIOT Act passed in 2001 during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack, but it was originally conceived by former Vice President Joe Biden as the 1995 Omnibus Counterterrorism Act; the law has long been regarded as a major infringement on civil liberties and a reactionary piece of legislation which has passed its time in the sun.
The re-authorization was introduced late and offered lawmakers only 72 hours to read the entire continuing resolution. High-profile members of the progressive “Squad,” Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who had previously spoken out against the act, were among those who voted to renew it. On her website, Ocasio-Cortez bemoans the creation of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency as part and parcel of the PATRIOT Act and its associated legislation. She opines:
“The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was created in 2003, in the same suite of post-9/11 legislation as the Patriot Act and the Iraq War. Its founding was part of an unchecked expansion of executive powers that led to the widespread erosion of Americans’ civil rights.”
Why, then, would she now choose to cast a vote extending said powers?
A Whiff of 2020?
Every Democrat in the House of Representatives voted for the resolution bar two, who abstained. The fact that those few who demurred were not brave enough to vote against the extension tells us something of interest: This was a party whip. It appears the upper echelons determined that the spending would go through come hell or high water, and woe betide those who go against the party leadership. Is there perhaps an element of self-interest at play here? Each decision made and vote taken in Congress sets a permanent record for individual members; is it beyond the party machine to lay traps for primary candidates who the management team does not view as “suitable”? Or perhaps the whole exercise was designed to test loyalty to the party line?
For a group that touts itself as being the defender of civil rights, it was a bold decision for Democrats to publically place themselves in the firing line of those who see the PATRIOT Act as an invasive, right-wing Trojan Horse.
An Opportunity for Trump?
If the partisan vote in the Senate matches that in the House, Republicans will decline to pass this resolution. The GOP will get the blame if a budget is not passed by midnight Thursday, in time for President Trump’s signature – but perhaps this could be a vote winner in 2020.
If the president rallies Republican senators to shoot the bill down, he can lay claim to a position in defence of civil liberties and drag along with him the Fourth Estate, which would have a hard time advocating a Bush-era policy that it has argued against for almost two decades. Add in a smattering of social media, and Trump could become the Civil Rights President … at least until the next storm in a teacup is served.
Read more from Mark Angelides.