Patriot Games: GOP Reps Pick Tea Party Rally Over National-Security Votes

When it’s a choice between strengthening the Patriot Act, or showing up for the Tea Party Patriots, what’s a GOP lawmaker to do? We’ll give you one guess…

Several Republican members of Congress yesterday blew off votes on the signature anti-terror legislation of the post 9/11 era to attend Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party rally against health-care reform.Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Trent Franks of Arizona, Randy Forbes of Virginia [SEE LATE UPDATE BELOW] , Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Louie Gohmert and Ted Poe of Texas all took time out yesterday for the “Super Bowl of Freedom,” as Bachmann has called it. And all missed votes in the House Judiciary committee on Republican-sponsored amendments to the reauthorization of the Patriot Act — measures that would have toughened the Act, but narrowly failed. Those votes took place, a committee staffer confirmed, between noon and two — the very time when Republican lawmakers were rallying the Tea Party troops on the Capitol steps.

One measure, offered by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, would have extended the “lone wolf” provisions of the Act, which would allow the FBI to surveil or search foreign nationals even if it can’t be shown that the person is an agent of a foreign power. Many believe that had this been in effect before 9/11, the FBI might have caught Zacarias Moussaoui. And Republicans had said that extending the lone wolf provision this time around was crucial to protecting national security. Even some Democrats supported the measure, giving it a good chance of passage. But it failed by a single vote, 15-15. Reps. King and Gohmert were absent.

Another measure, offered by Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-CA), failed by a vote of 11 to 8. Reps. King, Gohmert, Jordan, and Poe were all missing.

And a third, brought by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), which would have bolstered the ability of local law enforcement to use a device that records phone numbers from a particular phone, failed by 12 to 10, with King, Gohmert, Jordan, Poe, and Franks all absent. (A subsequent amendment that did essentially the same thing later passed, it’s worth noting.)

Several other members of both parties missed some of these votes as well, but there’s no evidence they were Tea Partying.

To be sure, the Rooney and Lundren amendments appear to have largely tinkered around the edges — neither would have been far-reaching enough to produce broad GOP support for the final bill, which was strongly backed by civil libertarians and liberal Democrats. But the Smith measure was more far-reaching. And a Hill aide confirmed that all three Republican measures would have shifted the bill toward increasing the power of law enforcement to fight terror, and away from civil liberties — an approach that Republicans have long argued is crucial to national security.

At the Bachmann event yesterday, King, of Iowa, sounded one of the more passionate calls to arms. “We own this hill. We’re the American people,” he told the Tea Partiers. “And you know what? We’re not going to leave this hill until we kill this bill.”

But a few hours later, the bill that King actually had a chance to help shape was voted out of committee by 16-10 — with King, Gohmert, and Forbes, as well as three other Republicans, again absent for the final vote. Republicans on the panel blasted the legislation, saying it would hinder law enforcement and intelligence agencies in fighting terror. But had a few more of their own showed up to vote, instead of playing to the Tea Party crowd, perhaps they would have been able to fix some of what they didn’t like about it.

None of the offices for King, Gohmert, Poe, Forbes, Franks or Jordan responded to requests for comment from TPMmuckraker.

Additional reporting by Rachel Slajda

Late Update, 11/10/09, 2pm: A spokeswoman for Rep. Forbes writes:

Congressman Forbes did not miss any of the Judiciary votes due to attendance at the tea party press conference. Rep Forbes was in attendance for the first three votes. He was absent for the final vote because he was on his way to attend an important shipyard commencement event being held in his district that evening

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