House Republicans and Your Freedom to Read

You might have heard about the failure of an amendment on an appropriations bill in the House which would have tailored the Patriot Act slightly. The proposal would have restricted Federal agents from being able to snoop around the records of public libraries without obtaining a warrant. Under the Patriot Act, the FBI can use the super-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's secret court, which issues search warrants using much lower standards of evidence than the regular court system. (The FISA court was created to allow the government to investigate foreign spies operating in the US - not target innocent civilians.)

The measure, introduced by Vermont Independent Bernard Sanders, looked like it was going to pass last week by a vote of 219 to 201 when the normal voting time limit expired. However, the Bush administration had lobbied hard behind the scenes against the amendment, threatening to veto the entire appropriations bill if it passed (It likely would have died in the Senate). However, the Republican leadership held the vote open 23 minutes longer for some intense arm-twisting and convinced 11 Republicans to switch their votes, only closing it when a tie was achieved (which means it failed to pass under House rules):

In the end, Sanders' proposal failed on a tie vote, 210-210. One member, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, voted present, and 14 were absent. Eighteen Republicans ultimately voted for the bill, down from the initial 29, according to the unofficial tally kept during the voting by C-SPAN.

Among the 11 Republicans who switched from yes to no were Reps. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, Tom Davis of Virginia, Jack Kingston of Georgia and Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, according to a list provided by Pelosi's office.

One Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks (Los Angeles County), switched from a "no" to a "yes" vote.

"You win some, and some get stolen," Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho, a sponsor with Sanders of the provision and one of Congress' more conservative members, told the Associated Press. (SFChronicle)

The move infuriated Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi and the ACLU, which both promptly fired off fiery press releases, Pelosi accusing the Republic leadership of "undermining democracy," and the ACLU called the vote "chaotic," accusing them of "violating their own rules." Meanwhile, the American Libraries Association congratulated "Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the 209 other brave members of the House of Representatives who stood by their votes in favor of the Sanders amendment" At least one of the switchers spoke to the media: "Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said he switched his "yes" vote to "no" after being shown Justice Department documents asserting that terrorists have communicated over the Internet via public library computers." (Source) Maybe it's just me, but if the terrorists are in our libraries, I'm sure our country's judiciary would be happy to provide them a s-e-a-r-c-h w-a-r-r-a-n-t.


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