House conservatives and progressive Democrats came together Tuesday to hand the new GOP majority its first defeat of the 112th Congress by rejecting a PATRIOT Act extension.
The 277-148 tally fell seven votes short of the two-thirds support needed for passage. In the hope of finding more backers, Republican leaders kept the vote open for 35 minutes — about 20 minutes longer than scheduled and, according to a Democrat, in violation of the chamber’s rules.
“Holding the vote open is against what they said the rules would be,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an opponent of the legislation.
“This is a significant defeat for the PATRIOT Act, because what you have here is a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who blocked this from happening,” the Ohio Democrat added.
Kucinich, who helped whip opposition to the bill by calling conservative Members, said he hoped the defeat would fuel more opposition for the extension across the country.
Members came to the floor at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to take what many thought would be a largely perfunctory vote. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) brought the bill up under suspension of the rules, a move that typically indicates that leaders are confident they have the votes.
But the situation on the floor quickly unraveled, as eight Republicans who were elected in November joined older conservatives and progressives such as Kucinich to beat back the bill. Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his entire whip team huddled for long minutes on the floor as they sought to find a way around the defeat, to no avail.
Conservatives and progressives have long had deep reservations regarding the PATRIOT Act, which they argue infringes on citizens’ right to privacy.
It remains unclear what the next step is for the bill. Cantor could bring the bill back under a rule or under suspension if Republicans are able to find the needed votes for passage. Bringing the bill under a rule would be an easier bar to reach, because only 218 votes would be required for passage.