Under pressure from a White House veto threat and its Republican leadership, the U.S. House yesterday barely defeated an effort to scale back the USA Patriot Act. On a vote of 210 to 210, the House rejected an amendment that would have limited the law by preventing the Justice Department from searching library and bookstore records to probe individuals’ reading habits. The Los Angeles Times says the amendment was backed by a coalition of Democrats and conservative Republicans who believe the Patriot Act has gone too far in extending the federal government’s law enforcement powers. The House appeared on track to pass the amendment when the 15 minutes allotted for a roll-call vote expired. GOP leaders exercised their power to keep the vote open longer to make sure it did not pass. They got about 10 Republicans who initially supported the amendment to switch their votes, allowing it to die on a tie vote.
The cliff-hanger vote showed how tenuous Bush’s support is for extending or expanding the law enforcement powers of the Patriot Act in this election year.