McNerney Dodges And Weaves Over Patriot Act

By Steven Tavares

Rep. Jerry McNerney

Rep. Jerry McNerney’s 11th District is one of the Bay Area’s most confusing for political navigation. His western border contains moderate to liberal Democrats in Dublin and Pleasanton and a growing contingent of conservatives in Tracy and the Central Valley. Just travel on Interstate 580 to the I-5 interchange and see the transformation where signs proclaiming Jesus’ love along with testosterone-infused slogans of American hegemony litter the roadside.

It is the reason McNerney wholeheartedly straddled the fence Tuesday becoming the only Bay Area lawmaker to approve extension of controversial elements of the Patriot Act. His spokesperson joined the political kabuki dance telling the Oakland Tribune, “[the congressman] has serious concerns with this legislation and believes that we must make substantial changes to the law in order to better preserve our country’s most fundamental civil liberties,” she said. “However, in the meantime, allowing the policy to expire without warning and a comprehensive debate on our security policies would not be advisable.”

McNerney beat down a strong conservative challenge last November by David Harmer and, despite his assorted constituency, sported a quite liberal record since upsetting Richard Pombo in 2006. With congressional redistricting on the horizon and the likelihood more moderate voters will be cobbled together with more liberal voters in the East Bay, some of the future officeholders at the state and federal level may come across similarly tough positions to navigate like McNerney weaved through this week.

Rep. Pete Stark in a floor statement Tuesday reminded Republicans of their reading of the Constitution on the first day of the new last month. “Perhaps we skipped over the Bill of Rights,” said Stark, “because the provisions we’re extending today are a direct infringement on American’s constitutional rights.”

“Many of my colleagues were elected based on their rhetoric opposing more power to the federal government,” said Stark. “Today’s vote gives them a chance to put their money where their mouths are, and say no to giving government the power to violate Americans’ civil liberties.”

Stark’s call to libertarian-leaning Tea Party freshman may have worked. Although the vote re-authorizing key provisions of the Patriot Act tallied a 277-148 margin of approval, it fell 7 votes short of the need two-thirds majority under House fast-track rules. Eight of the 26 Republicans who voted against were elected last November behind a fervor unleashed by the Tea Party.

The Washington Post reports the House will vote Thursday under “closed rule,” this time only needing only a simple majority. The Senate still needs to approve the extension. One of the three timetables in the Senate is backed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The law is due to expire Feb. 28.