Sen. Joseph Lieberman was the only Connecticut lawmaker to vote “yes” on a four-year extension of the Patriot Act yesterday.
The anti-terrorism measure gives broad and controversial powers to law enforce officials. One provision, for example, gives the FBI the authority to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets, while another allows law enforcement officials to access “any tangible items,” including library records, for individuals under surveillance.
The measure was the subject of intense debate and 11th hour wrangling and passed just hours before the existing Patriot Act was set to expire.
In the House, all five Connecticut Democrats voted no on the renewal.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3nd District, said she voted against the measure because “it continues to provide an overreaching and invasive blank check for the next four years.” She said Congress should have debated and reformed the bill before “rubber-stamping” it.
Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, similarly said in an email to supporters that the measure “does not strike the right balance between protecting our nation while safeguarding the cherished civil liberties we hold dear.”
Murphy noted that he voted for extending the measure earlier this year “to give Congress time to find an appropriate balance,” but that didn’t happen. “Extending the most unjustifiable provisions in the act with no additional oversight for an additional four years is a bridge too far for me.”
The issue has cropped up in the U.S. Senate contest between Murphy and his Democratic rival, Susan Bysiewicz. In yet another play for the hearts and minds of very liberal Democratic primary voters, Bysiewicz’s campaign criticized Murphy’s previous votes in favor of short-term extensions of the Patriot Act, saying it shows he’s more of a centrist than a true lefty. Murphy’s camp dismissed her criticism as “mudslinging” and said he was focused on more important issues, like jobs, than on campaign strategy.
In the Senate, the measure passed overwhelmingly. The support from Lieberman, a conservative on foreign policy and defense issues, was no surprise.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal didn’t not vote in yesterday’s roll call, because he was attending his son’s college graduation. But he had voted for the extension in committee. And earlier this week, he indicated support for the measure.
“The civil liberties issues are a concern if there’s abuse,” Blumenthal said. The three key provisions extended “need carefully and cautiously and responsibly,” he added, “but the record indicates that these provisions have been very important to fighting terrorist threats.”