House Republicans suffered an embarrassing setback Tuesday when they fell seven votes short of extending provisions of the Patriot Act, a vote that served as the first small uprising of the party's tea-party bloc.
The bill to reauthorize key parts of the counter-terrorism surveillance law, which expire at the end of the month, required a super-majority to pass under special rules reserved for non-controversial measures.
But it fell short of the required two-thirds after 26 Republicans bucked their leadership, eight of them freshman lawmakers elected in November's midterm elections. With most Democrats opposing the extension, the final tally was 277 members in favor of extension, and 148 opposed.
Earlier Tuesday, House Republicans pulled a bill to extend assistance to workers who lose jobs due to competition from imports. Conservatives had complained that the bill would put the federal government too squarely into the private economy.
And leaders of the Appropriations Committee heard complaints Tuesday from fellow Republicans on the panel that their bill to slash at least $32 billion in fiscal year 2011 spending was insufficient.
One authorizes the FBI to use roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access "any tangible items," such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and the third allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.
Democrats hailed the day's events under a press release from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office asking a simple question: "Disarray?"
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has presented an occasionally lonely opposition to the Patriot Act, said that Tuesday's vote demonstrated that he now had company from more than two dozen Republicans who support the Bill of Rights. "The Patriot Act represents the undermining of civil liberties," Kucinich said after the vote. Republicans "brought [the bill] forward not knowing the votes."
House leaders rejected that analysis. "Democrats in Congress voted to deny their own administration's request for key weapons in the war on terror," said Erica Elliott, spokeswoman for Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
A large majority of the freshman Republicans did support the extension of the law, which the last GOP president, George W. Bush, staunchly supported. Even some who wavered eventually decided to support the bill.
The White House said in a statement Tuesday that it "does not object" to extending the three Patriot Act provisions until December.