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Democrats Lament Midnight Changes to Patriot Act

One of the highlights of today’s House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act was Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers’ (D-Mich.) repeated lamentations about the sneaky way that the Patriot Act got passed in the first place, offering an interesting glimpse into the behind-the-scenes workings of Congress.

After the House Judiciary Committee worked for days shortly after September 11, 2001 to hammer out a bill that both parties’ representatives unanimously agreed to, Conyers recalled with obvious irritation, the House Rules committee managed to hack it up so much behind closed doors that by the time the full House voted on it the next day, it was unrecognizable.

“Then Chairman Dreier” — referring to Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), then chairman of the House Rules Committee — “under lord knows whose instructions, substituted that bill for another bill, that we at Judiciary had never seen. So we come here today now to consider what we do with those parts that are expiring.” Conyers proceeded to say that many of the problems being discussed at the hearing with the current law would have been addressed by the original bipartisan one, such as offering an opportunity for people harmed by the Patriot Act’s abuses to seek redress. The original law also “may have eliminated, or simplified, litigation about Patriot Act abuses that continue today,” said Conyers.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who chaired today’s hearing of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, backed up Conyers’ version of what happened.

“We held in this committee five days of markup and achieved unanimity on the Patriot Act. Then the bill just disappeared. And we had a new several-hundred-page bill revealed from the Rules Committee” that had to be voted on the next day, before most members of Congress even had a chance to read it, said Nadler.

None of the Republicans at today’s hearing challenged the Democratic chairmen’s version of events.

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