Home/The State of the Union/In Which Joe Biden Brags About Having Written the Patriot Act

In Which Joe Biden Brags About Having Written the Patriot Act

The Senate's erstwhile Irish beat cop is today trying to court the left. That doesn't square with many of his past positions.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Imagine being a progressive forced to vote for Joe Biden. There aren’t enough clothespins in the world to hold your nose. Biden has lately tried to make inroads with the left, jumping onboard the post-George Floyd campaign for racial justice and releasing an economic plan that encompasses many progressive priorities. But even that can’t mask the smell of his support for the Iraq war, his authoring of the 1994 crime bill, his backing of 1996 welfare reform legislation.

Oh, and he essentially wrote the Patriot Act too. Here he is bragging about that during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2002, featuring, natch, a smirking Robert Mueller:

The bill Biden is boasting about was called the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995, which itself contained two subsidiary bills dedicated to fighting domestic terrorism. Biden introduced the legislation in the Senate, while then-congressman Chuck Schumer introduced it in the House, with the Clinton administration in full support. The package was backed by other Democrats too, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, and opposed by civil libertarians and many Republicans who were worried it would be used to, as Biden said, target conservative groups.

Those concerns weren’t necessarily unjustified. Two months later, after a domestic terrorist named Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, President Bill Clinton made comments that seemed to blame conservative talk radio for the attack, which some on the right interpreted as a threat. At any rate, Biden’s legislation never passed. But the Patriot Act did, rushed through a jumpy Congress after 9/11. From there it was used to establish a pervasive surveillance regime that’s still in place today. (Interestingly enough, the Patriot Act’s most frequent targets haven’t been al-Qaeda or right-wing militias but domestic drug dealers.)

The Patriot Act was a deeply cynical and overly latitudinous piece of legislation. Fortunately efforts in Congress to curtail its surveillance procedures are ongoing, despite some setbacks earlier this year. As for Biden, Jack Hunter sums up just how bad his flip-flopping looks:

So in addition to Biden, the probable 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, having an illiberal record on mandatory minimum sentencing, the Iraq War, and marijuana legalization, he also bragged about authoring the Patriot Act, legislation that liberals nationwide marched in the streets to oppose in 2003.

My theory on Biden is that he used to be like the Bill O’Reilly of the United States Senate (stay with me on this one). In a 2006 profile of the former Fox News primetime host, New Yorker writer Nicholas Lemann described O’Reilly as less as a doctrinaire conservative than a police officer, a nightstick-wielding tough guy with a lantern jaw who hated deviance and disorder and loved patriotism and hard work. Biden’s mentality as a legislator was similar, that of the Irish beat cop. Law enforcement was to be trusted, the bad guys weren’t, and anything that empowered the former at the expense of the latter was worthwhile. Also: put down the bong, get your ass off of welfare, and don’t expect sympathy if you’re hauled down to the station.

This, of course, is how a lot of Democrats used to think. But that age has come and gone. America as world police did not pan out. The left is freshly skeptical of domestic law enforcement too. Joe Biden is at the moment on autopilot towards the White House thanks to discontent over Trump. Yet before the election, he ought to be grilled harder about his inconsistencies. What does he think of today’s mass surveillance? How would a President Biden handle the situation in Portland?

If he refuses to answer, I hear its really easy to tap someone’s phone these days…

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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