As the U.S. Senate moved Thursday to reauthorize the Patriot Act in a form that fails to address essential concerns about the protection of civil liberties, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, the chamber’s most ardent critic of reauthorization along the lines demanded by the Bush administration, admitted temporary defeat. But, in final remarks to his colleagues on the eve of the vote, Feingold declared, "This fight is not over Mr. President. The vote today will not assuage the deep and legitimate concerns that the public has about the Patriot Act. I am convinced that in the end, the government will respond to the people, as it should. We will defeat the terrorists, and we will preserve the freedom and liberty that make this the greatest country on the face of the earth."
Here is the text of the speech Feingold — the only senator to oppose the initial version of the Patriot Act in 2001 and one of the few to consistently oppose it throughout the reauthorization process — prepared for delivery to the Senate:
Mr. President, in a few minutes, the Senate will conclude a process that began over a year ago by reauthorizing the Patriot Act. I will have a few closing remarks but first I want to take this opportunity to thank the extraordinary staff who have worked on this bill for so long. These men and women, on both sides of the aisle, have worked extremely hard and they deserve to be recognized. I ask unanimous consent that a list of their names be printed in the Record after my remarks.
Mr. President, beginning in November when we first saw a draft of the conference report, I have spoken at length about the substance of this bill. I hoped that when we started the task of reauthorizing the Patriot Act at the beginning of last year, the end product would be something that the whole Senate could support. We had a real chance to pass a bill that would both reauthorize the tools to prevent terrorism and fix the provisions that threaten the rights and freedoms of innocent Americans. This conference report, even as amended by the bill incorporating the White House deal that we passed yesterday, falls well short of that goal. I will vote no.
Protecting the country from terrorism while also protecting our rights is a challenge for every one of us, particularly in the current political climate, and it is a challenge we all take seriously. I know that many Senators who will vote for this reauthorization bill in a few minutes would have preferred to enact the bill we passed without a single objection in July of last year. I appreciate that so many of my colleagues came to recognize the need to take the opportunity presented by the sunset provisions included in the original Patriot Act to make changes that would better protect civil liberties than did the law we enacted in haste in October 2001.
Nevertheless, I am deeply disappointed that we have largely wasted this opportunity to fix the obvious problems with the Patriot Act.
The reason I spent so much time in the past few days talking about how the public views the Patriot Act was to make it clear that this fight was not about one Senator arguing the details of the law. This fight was about trying to restore the public’s trust in our government. That trust has been severely shaken as the public learned more about the Patriot Act, which was passed with so little debate in 2001, and as the administration resisted congressional oversight efforts and repeatedly politicized the reauthorization process. The revelations about secret warrantless surveillance late last year only confirmed the suspicions of many in our country that the government is willing to trample the rule of law and constitutional guarantees in the fight against terrorism.
The negative reaction to the Patriot Act has been overwhelming. Over 400 state and local government bodies passed resolutions pleading with Congress to change the law. Citizens have signed petitions, library associations and campus groups have organized to petition the Congress to act, numerous editorials have been written urging Congress not to reauthorize the law without adequate protections for civil liberties. These things occurred because Americans across the country recognize that the Patriot Act includes provisions that pose a threat to their privacy and liberty — values that are at the very core of what this country represents, of who we are as a people.
In 2001, we were viciously attacked by terrorists who care nothing for American freedoms and American values. And we as a people came together to fight back, and we are prepared to make great sacrifices to defeat those who would destroy us. But what we will not do, what we cannot do, is destroy our own freedoms in the process.
Without freedom, we are not America. If we don’t preserve our liberties, we cannot win this war, no matter how many terrorists we capture or kill.
That is why the several Senators who have said at one time or another during this debate things like, "Civil liberties do not mean much when you are dead" are wrong about America at the most basic level. They do not understand what this country is all about. Theirs is a vision that the founders of this nation, who risked everything for freedom, would categorically reject. And so do the American people.
Americans want to defeat terrorism, and they want the basic character of this country to survive and prosper. They want to empower the government to protect the nation from terrorists, and they want protections against government overreaching and overreacting. They know it might not be easy, but they expect the Congress to figure out how to do it. They don’t want defeatism on either score. They want both security and liberty, and unless we give them both – and we can, if we try – we have failed.
This fight is not over Mr. President. The vote today will not assuage the deep and legitimate concerns that the public has about the Patriot Act. I am convinced that in the end, the government will respond to the people, as it should. We will defeat the terrorists, and we will preserve the freedom and liberty that make this the greatest country on the face of the earth.
I yield the floor.