Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) was the lone dissenting vote in the U.S. Senate when the Patriot Act was rushed through Congress after September 11. This month, he led the campaign to prevent the Act’s renewal. He pledged to filibuster, and today, he won.
Just prior to the vote, Feingold addressed his fellow senators, keying off this morning’s New York Times report on the Bush administration’s extensive (and potentially illegal) domestic wiretapping practices:
I don’t want to hear again from the Attorney General or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care. This shocking revelation ought to send a chill down the spine of every Senator and every American.
Full transcript below:
Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Vermont, not only for yielding time but for his tremendous leadership on this issue, and I am deeply grateful to him for it.
Let me just echo what Senator Kennedy said. This morning, we saw an astounding story in the New York Times. Since 2002, the government has reportedly been wiretapping the international phone and e-mail conversations of hundreds, even thousands, of people inside the United States without wiretap orders.
Mr. President, when I talk about abuses, I can’t imagine a more shocking example of an abuse of power. To eavesdrop on American citizens without first getting a court order based on some evidence that they are possibly criminals, terrorists, or spies. It is truly astonishing to read that this administration would go this far beyond the bounds of the statutes of the Constitution.
So we as an institution have the duty and the obligation to get to the bottom of this. I hope that this morning’s revelation drives home to people that this body must be absolutely vigilant in our oversight of government power.
And I don’t want to hear again from the Attorney General or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care. This shocking revelation ought to send a chill down the spine of every Senator and every American.
And so, when we look at Section 215 of the Patriot Act — remember, this is the section where Attorney General Ashcroft once said that librarians concerned about the privacy rights of their patrons were “hysterical.” But then, the attorney general conceded at his nomination hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee that some changes would be justified.
Unfortunately, the administration was not willing to make the real changes to that provision that are necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of innocent Americans.
The provisions of the bill relating to National Security Letters are also deficient. There is no requirement, Mr. President, that the records sought under that authority — which doesn’t involve a court at all — have some connection at all to a suspected terrorist or spy. The judicial review that the conference report allows after the fact of a National Security Letter itself and the mandatory gag order, Mr. President, is just a mirage.
After what the Times reported this morning, no one in this body should be comfortable with a government having this kind of unreviewable power. So Mr. President, this conference report is inadequate and should not be passed. I believe it will not pass.
So let me talk finally to what happens if the cloture motion fails. Do those who oppose the conference report and want the PATRIOT Act to expire? Of course not! It is false to suggest that we do, and it is shameful to threaten that that is what will happen if the Senate does not approve this conference report.
The only way that the PATRIOT Act will expire at the end of this year is if the proponents of the conference report — in this body or the other body — block alternative reauthorization bills that can easily pass with widespread, bipartisan support.
Now is not the time for brinksmanship or threats. Now is the time do the right thing for the American people, and for the Constitutional rights and freedoms that make our country great.
Mr. President, I am very proud to be part of a bipartisan coalition working together to strengthen protections for civil liberties in the Patriot Act. I think the demonstration of bipartisanship on this floor over the last few days has been simply remarkable. We have stayed together ever since our bill, the SAFE Act, was introduced.
We knew that a time would come where we’d have to take a stand, and now we have. We are united today, as we were then.
This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue. This is a Constitutional issue. We can come together to give the government the tools it needs to fight terrorism and protect the rights and freedoms of innocent citizens. And we can do this before the end of this year.
But first, we must keep this inadequate conference report from becoming law by voting “no.”
Mr. President, I yield the floor.