"I Will Vote No on Patriot Act"
Thursday 02 March 2006
Today's vote marks another stage in reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act. Our goal has always been to mend it, not end it. To that end we passed a bipartisan bill with better provisions last July after it was unanimously reported by the Judiciary Committee. After the House-Senate conference was hijacked and Democratic conferees were excluded while the Bush-Cheney Administration and congressional Republicans wrote the bill, I worked to get that process and the bill back on track.
Working with Chairman Specter, we were able to make some progress and get some helpful additions and changes.
But the conference report insisted on by the Bush-Cheney Administration and passed by Republican leaders through the House was still flawed. Last December I worked with a bipartisan coalition of Senators to oppose final passage of that conference report and create additional opportunities for improvements.
That led to the Sununu bill, which is in essence an amendment of the conference report.
I supported Senator Sununu's efforts and voted for that bill, which contained some improvements I had pushed for.
Our effort to protect libraries from national security letters was very important to me and that is why I supported Sununu's bill in spite of the worsening of the "gag rule" provisions insisted upon by the Bush-Cheney Administration.
Today we turn to the conference report. Even with the Sununu bill, the conference report has not been improved sufficiently for me to support it. Just as I opposed it last December, I continue to oppose it. The bill that the Senate will adopt today falls too far short and impinges too greatly on the liberties of Americans.
The Founders made a profound choice when they framed the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution as a measure to ensure the "right of the people to be secure." The Fourth Amendment is, of course, about guaranteeing our privacy rights and the requirement of a judicial check on the Government invading our homes, papers and effects. The Founders saw that as the right to be "secure". So do I. I believe that Americans' security includes our national security, our security from terrorism and also our right to be secure as Americans. And that means exercising the liberties, rights and freedoms that define us as Americans.
I do not believe that this bill achieves the balance that we could have and should have achieved. The final product would have been better had the Bush-Cheney Administration and congressional Republicans not insisted on locking Democrats out of the negotiations throughout the process.
Still, this bill, through our efforts, in some ways represents an improvement with better sunshine and reporting provisions. I worked hard to include these new provisions because sunshine, coupled with the sunset provisions, add up to more accountability in the use of these government powers. But some key provisions remain significantly flawed. I respect those who conclude that, on balance, the bill's virtues outweigh its vices. I believe we can and should do better.
I am one who worked diligently on the original PATRIOT Act in the days following the attacks of 9/11. I also voted to reauthorize an improved, bipartisan version of the act back in July of 2005. I joined with Senator Sununu in leading the effort to ensure that the provisions did not expire when we were at an impasse last fall.
In the PATRIOT Act, we provided important and valuable tools for the protection of Americans from terrorism. I have worked and voted to preserve them. I am disappointed that this conference report represents a missed opportunity to get it right, to recalibrate the balance better to respect the liberties and rights of Americans while protecting us from those who threaten harm.
I am concerned, as all Americans are, with our security. We come to work everyday in a building that was targeted for destruction by al-Qaida. I was the target of a letter laced with deadly anthrax that killed innocent postal workers. It doesn't hit much closer to home than that.
Many of us have recalled Benjamin Franklin's wise counsel. He was a man involved in a revolution against King George III. Had it failed, he would have been hanged. Most of those around him would have been hanged. When he was working to form a government that would respect liberty and protect people, he cautioned that those who would give up essential liberties for temporary security deserve neither liberty or security. We must preserve our essential liberties.
The serious bad parts of this bill are made unacceptable because we currently have an Administration that does not believe in checks and balances and prefers to do everything in secret. We now see the Bush-Cheney Administration seeking to twist the Authorization for Use of Military Force against al-Qaida into a justification for its secret, warrantless wiretapping of Americans' emails and telephone calls. We see them claiming that they need not fulfill their constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws but can pick and choose among the laws they decide to recognize.
Legislative action should be the clear and unambiguous legal footing for any Government powers. These matters should be governed by law, not by whim or some shifting concept on the President's "inherent authority" that is exercised in secret. Confronted with this Administration's claims of inherent and unchecked powers, I do not believe that the restraints we have been able to include in this reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act are sufficient.
I will continue to work to provide the tools that we need to protect the American people. I trust that Vermonters will understand that while I have repeatedly voted to extend and reauthorize the PATRIOT Act, this permanent measure falls short of what they deserve. I will continue to work to provide the oversight and checks needed on the use of Government power. I know that the Senate will adopt this measure, but it is a pale shadow of what it could be. It is not the best that the greatest democracy on Earth deserves. I will keep fighting for us to do better.
I will continue to work to improve the PATRIOT Act. I will work to provide better oversight over the use of national security letters and to remove the un-American restraints on meaningful judicial review. I will seek to monitor how sensitive personal information from medical files, gun stores and libraries are obtained and used. I will join Senators Specter, Sununu, Craig, and others in introducing a bill to improve the PATRIOT Act and reauthorization legislation in several important respects. Much is left to be done.