Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Friday that he would put off a test vote on the Senate version of the online piracy bill, the PROTECT IP Act.
Cantor has focused on technology issues and quietly courted the entertainment sector for financial and policy support. But the bill pitted those two key constituencies — Hollywood and Silicon Valley — against each other, putting Cantor in a difficult position.
As controversy over the legislation increased, Smith and Goodlatte had hoped Cantor would swoop in to help usher the bill to the floor, much like he did on patent reform legislation.
Instead, Cantor appeared to side with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who had been waging war with Smith over SOPA and promoting his own legislation to tackle the problem.
For instance, when Issa and Cantor relayed the contrasting messages they’d received from Cantor to Roll Call, Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon said the Majority Leader “has told both chairmen that there are major issues of concern that need to be addressed prior to moving forward.”
Because Smith had just said Cantor and other leaders were “supportive of our efforts,” the spokeswoman’s quote appeared to be a major blow to Smith.
It is unclear what Cantor told Smith and Goodlatte in the emergency meeting; none of the three parties would comment.
But shortly afterward, Smith issued a statement saying, “We will continue to work with members, outside organizations and stakeholders to reach consensus,” a shift in tone for the chairman.
Though the chances for a deal appeared slim, Republican and Democratic leaders said last week that they would continue to look for one.
In a statement, Reid said he hopes the concerns raised by the website owners can be addressed so Congress can act to help protect copyrighted material on the Internet.
“There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved,” Reid said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday evening called on Democratic leaders to delay the scheduled vote, and on Friday, he praised Reid.
“The Majority Leader’s decision to set aside the bill will give Congress the opportunity to study and resolve the serious issues with this legislation and prevent a counterproductive rush toward flawed legislation,” McConnell said.
The Senate’s PIPA has been the target of intense opposition from popular Web-based firms, which contend that the measure is overly broad and would create unintended consequences that could stifle innovation, limit Americans’ free speech rights, increase the risk of cyber-attacks and undermine how the Internet functions. Several websites went dark Wednesday to protest the measure, a move that received a lot of media coverage.
PIPA would allow the Department of Justice as well as individual copyright owners to bring legal action against Internet users who post copyright-infringing content.
Opponents say the measure would provide the government too much leeway to shut down websites without first notifying their users or owners.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who drafted the measure and had been shepherding it through the Senate, chided his colleagues for bowing to pressure too quickly.
“I understand and respect Majority Leader Reid’s decision to seek consent to vitiate cloture on the motion to proceed to the PROTECT IP Act,” Leahy said. “But the day will come when the Senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem.”