Over the course of the last week, both the White House and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist have said that they would not accept a "short-term" extension of expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. "The president has made it very clear that he is not interested in signing any short-term renewal," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
But Wednesday night, the Senate approved -- with Frist's acquiescence and the president's approval -- a six-month extension of expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. Did Bill Frist and George W. Bush get beat, cave to pressure, flip-flop, even? Nope, says McCllelan: Six months is not "short-term."
Frist was a little more honest about the circumstances he faced. As we noted Wednesday, First had been playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the Patriot Act renewal, warning that the act would die -- and Americans would be less safe -- if the Senate didn't approve the version of the renewal legislation that emerged from a House-Senate conference committee. But when 52 senators said they'd agree to a short-term extension of the act in order to work out problems with the legislation, Frist's little game was pretty much over. He told reporters Wednesday night that he had no choice but to go along with the extension after all -- and seemed, finally, to acknowledge that he would have been the one killing the Patriot Act if he didn't. "I'm not going to let the Patriot Act die," he said. Sen. Russ Feingold translated: "They lost the game of chicken."
To be fair, Frist and the White House get something out of a six-month extension that the three-month extension that had been discussed wouldn't provide. Putting a decision off by six months moves the Patriot Act discussions a little farther away from the news that the Bush administration has been spying on American citizens without warrants -- and a little closer to the 2006 congressional elections, when the GOP can use the act, again, as a way to demagogue on national security.