Senator Rand Paul and a few colleagues will try to block an extension of the controversial Patriot Act provisions using a filibuster, Paul confirmed Monday in an interview.
Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, told the New Hampshire Union Leader that he would take an aggressive public stance on the Senate floor against extension championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I’m going to lead the charge in the next couple of weeks as the Patriot Act comes forward,” he told the Union Leader. “We will be filibustering. We will be trying to stop it. We are not going to let them run over us. And we are going to demand amendments and we are going to make sure the American people know that some of us at least are opposed to unlawful searches.”
On Sunday, Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said he also would filibuster a short-term extension of the current provisions, which critics believe violate the Constitution’s First and Fourth Amendment.
Back in May 2011, Paul was a vocal opponent of the four-year extension of provisions related to the government’s ability to collect “business records” such as phone metadata with the permission of a federal judge behind closed doors.
It was unclear from Paul’s comments what type of filibuster he would employ. In March 2013, Paul undertook an old-fashioned talking filibuster, made famous in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” Wyden took part in Paul’s 13-hour filibuster about executive power and drones, along with Republicans Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.
Then Senate minority leader McConnell was also part of the 2013 Paul filibuster, but now he will control the procedure that would possibly allow a talking filibuster or a cloture vote to block a filibuster.
Since Paul’s 2013 talking filibuster, the Democrats limited the filibuster in November 2013 by removing it from the Senate rules as a way to block executive appointment nominations, but it is fully in play for legislative acts like the Patriot Act provisions.
Now, Paul or others can signal their intent to filibuster, which would force McConnell to hold a cloture vote. If McConnell can get 60 votes to override the intended filibuster, then he could proceed to a full Senate vote on a clean re-authorization of the Patriot Act provisions.
But the cloture-vote provisions allow for a maximum of 30 hours of more procedures and public comments on a bill, so Paul and the Act’s opponents won’t lack a public forum.
Back in 2011, the Patriot Act extensions got 72 yes votes in the Senate, but that was before the disclosures by former government analysts Edward Snowden about the extent of the NSA’s phone-record collection program.
On Sunday, McConnell repeated his support of an extension at an event in Boston. “”The nation is better off with an extension of the Patriot Act than not, but we’ll see where the votes go,” McConnell said.
The House has its own new proposed law, the USA Freedom Act, that transfers data collection back to the private sector. McConnell opposed that bill and Paul won’t likely support the USA Freedom Act if it contains Patriot Act-like provisions.
The stalemate could come to a head by May 31, when the Senate would need to agree with the House on a new measure or a temporary extension of the old one, or else the massive data-collection program may need to shut down.
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