Amid new terror threats, US security officials say renewing key domestic spying provisions of the Patriot Act is critical to keep the US safe. Yet lawmakers are raising questions about the law.
Even as US antiterror officials warned Thursday of the growing threat of homegrown terrorism, the House leadership scrambled for votes to extend critical provisions of the 10-year-old Patriot Act, including a section that allows the FBI to spy on US-born terror suspects with no known ties to international terror organizations.
Concerns about civil liberty infractions are shared by incoming tea party-backed Republicans and by Democrats seeing an opportunity to derail a law that's unpopular on the American left. Those concerns played into the political scenario as Republicans scrambled Thursday for a new vote after the extensions narrowly failed in a Tuesday night vote that required a two-thirds majority for passage.
House Republican leaders will bring the extension back for another vote Friday, but under different rules which will allow it to pass with a simple majority. It is expected to pass easily.
"What's going on with the Patriot Act is all about messaging," says James Carafano, a national security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. "The Patriot Act has become a metaphor for people's messaging as opposed to a real debate over a real law."