After the USA PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 provision authorizing the bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records by the National Security Agency was ruled illegal by a federal appeals court, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) launched an aggressive campaign to force the Senate to allow the provision to expire. The law’s spying authority had been designed to sunset on May 31 absent reauthorization by lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to pass several bills that would temporarily extend the law’s expiring spying authorities but was blocked by Rand Paul, first through a perfectly-timed filibuster and then through additional procedural stalling tactics that pushed the timing of the vote past May 22, when senators were set to leave Washington DC for recess. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a last-minute vote on May 31 in an effort to reauthorize the provisions prior to their expiration, but Senator Rand Paul objected to any votes on PATRIOT Act reauthorization bills or the USA FREEDOM Act, a house-passed bill that Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) said would outsource NSA spying to corporations, until the Senate had sufficient time to debate, thus tabling the votes until Tuesday of this week at the earliest, forcing the PATRIOT Act to officially expire as of 12:01 EST this morning.
“Tonight we stopped the illegal NSA bulk data collection. This is a victory no matter how you look at it. It might be short lived, but I hope that it provides a road for a robust debate, which will strengthen our intelligence community, while also respecting our Constitution,” said Senator Paul of his bipartisan campaign to protect Americans’ privacy, which enjoyed substantial support by allies like Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressmen Justin Amash (R-MI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY).
Said Majority Leader McConnell, “We shouldn’t be disarming unilaterally as our enemies grow more sophisticated and aggressive, and we certainly should not be doing so based on a campaign of demagoguery and disinformation launched in the wake of the unlawful actions of Edward Snowden.”
According to NBC News, the three expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act include the National Security Agency’s authority to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk, a “lone wolf” provision allowing officials to investigate individuals who lack connections to terror groups, and a roving wiretap authority allowing investigators to spy on different communication tools believed to be used by a suspect without obtaining a new warrant each time.
During Sunday’s battle over the PATRIOT Act, Senator Rand Paul blocked efforts to pass the USA FREEDOM Act before the PATRIOT Act was set to expire, but the Senate voted 77-17 to consider the legislation in an upcoming vote, which is expected to happen as soon as Tuesday.
A statement by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest urged Senators to pass the USA FREEDOM Act and said, “The Senate took an important—if late—step forward tonight. We call on the Senate to ensure this irresponsible lapse in authorities is as short-lived as possible. On a matter as critical as our national security, individual Senators must put aside their partisan motivations and act swiftly. The American people deserve nothing less.”
At Saturday’s Tennessee Republican Party fundraiser, likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush said according to The Associated Press that Senator Paul is wrong and “the PATRIOT Act has kept us safe, plain and simple.”
Senator McCain accused Rand Paul of playing politics with national security by thwarting the spying legislation and said according to Politico, “I know what this is about — I think it’s very clear – this is, to some degree, a fundraising exercise. He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation.”
The Daily Beast notes that GOP presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz said of Rand’s stand against NSA spying, “I disagree with allowing key provisions of federal law to expire that allow the national security team to target radical Islamic terrorists.”
Congressman Thomas Massie defended Paul against those who say that he has exposed the nation to risk by allowing the PATRIOT Act to expire and said, “He’s exposing the country to the Constitution. And the senators that think that’s dangerous are saying the Constitution’s dangerous.”
Said Senator Paul during Sunday’s fireworks, “Tonight begins the process of ending bulk collection… People here in town think I’m making a huge mistake. Some of them, I think, secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.”
NSA officials told CNN that the National Security Agency officially ended its bulk metadata collection program at 7:44 PM EST on Sunday.