The backroom haggling and front-and-center rhetoric over the Act's extension went on right up to the end. Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist declined an offer made by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy of the Judiciary Committee to enact a three-month extension of the law to buy time for further negotiations. In the last few days, the White House dispatched Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to address the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon on Capitol Hill. But he failed to convince key Senators, such as Republicans Larry Craig of Idaho, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, all of whom object to the limited checks on executive authority in the bill. Instead, the opponents won over other GOP colleagues, including presidential hopeful Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. The rhetoric got so hot Thursday that Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, a White House ally on the issue, said on the floor of the Senate that a terrorist attack that occurred after the expiration could be on the heads of those who voted to support the filibuster.
At the same time, Democratic opponents, led by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Dick Durbin of Illinois, held moderates like Mary Landrieu of Lousiana and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and the increasingly hawkish Hillary Clinton of New York. The numbers left the GOP and the President short by 8 votes in their attempt to override the filibuster. As the clock ticked down Thursday night, the GOP leadership launched a last-ditch effort to swing Senators, threatening to let the law's sunsetted provisions expire entirely. "Tomorrow's vote is going to be the only vote," warned Frist aide Bob Stevenson.
Despite the apparent Democratic win, Republicans are convinced it will prove to be a Pyrrhic victory in an election year. They claim it will be the perfect weapon to beat the Dems with next November. "If they're against this it's going to hurt them politically," says a top GOP aide. "When you side with the American Civil Liberties Union over law enforcement, you got a problem in an election year."