Now add more than two dozen senators to Feingold's side, including the leaders of his party and some of the chamber's most conservative Republicans, and the balance of power shifts.
The new Senate arithmetic that emerged this week is enough to place the renewal of major portions of the law in doubt. It was enough to inspire Senate Republican leaders to consider a backup plan in case Feingold's filibuster threat succeeded. Enough to prompt
President Bush to dispatch Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Capitol Hill twice in two days to lobby on the accord's behalf.
No luck so far, said the chief Senate sponsor.
"We've got a battle on our hands," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters after Gonzales had departed Wednesday.
Bush weighed in personally Thursday, urging opponents of the renewal to abandon the filibuster threats.
"That is a bad decision for the security of the United States," the president said. "I call upon the Senate to end the filibuster and to pass this important legislation so that we have the tools necessary to defend the country in a time of war."
Moments later, the senior Democrat on the issue, Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., told reporters that more than 40 votes exist to sustain a filibuster in a test vote Friday. White House allies said they would rather see the law's 16 temporary provisions expire entirely than give opponents another three months or more to keep whittling away at them.
Chief among their concerns are the National Security Letters that the FBI can use to compel the release of such private records as financial, computer and library transactions. The bill for the first time explicitly says the third-party recipients of NSLs — banks, Internet service providers and libraries — can hire lawyers and challenge the letters in court.
Feingold and his allies want more reports from the Justice Department on how NSLs and other tools in terror investigations are used. They also want to set limits on how long law enforcement officials can continue to use NSLs in terror investigations.
Whatever happens with the renewal, the mere debate is a boost for Feingold and any presidential aspirations he may nurture after next year's midterm elections — a development that carries some irony.
"People don't go to the well of the Senate and become the only senator to vote against something called the 'USA Patriot Act' five weeks after 9/11 because they're trying to get ready to run for president," Feingold said.
But four years later, during visits to the presidential proving grounds of New Hampshire and Iowa, Feingold says there's evidence his position has resonated with more than just the Democratic base.
Persistance pays off, Feingold was the only one with the guts to oppose this the first time arround, and now many more see that he was right. I would like to focus briefly on Sen. Larry Craig's membership in this coalition. His is a demonstration that even in the reddest of the Red States, Idaho, opposition to the PATRIOT ACT is a popular position. Craig supported the PATRIOT until one of the people who originally opposed it (Rep. Butch Otter R-ID 1st) convinced him of how bad this law is. Craig has been outspoken in his opposition since that time. It'll be interesting to see who is in this coalition of 40 that Leahy refers to. Thank you Sen. Feingold for making an issue out of this, it will never be forgotten.