In preparation for the possible expiration of certain provisions of the Patriot Act, the Obama administration is urging the Senate to act, and warning of repercussions that might occur if the Act expires altogether.
The Washington Post reported that at a press briefing on Wednesday, a senior administration official likened the fact that the Senate has not passed either an outright extension of the Patriot Act, or the USA Freedom Act, to it playing a game of “national security Russian roulette.”
“What you’re doing essentially is you’re just playing national security Russian roulette,” the official said. “That’s a game that you can play. But we urge Congress not to play that game with these uncontroversial authorities.”
The USA Freedom Act was presented by lawmakers as a way to curb Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is used by the NSA to justify its bulk collection of Americans’ data. While advocates for the USA Freedom Act claim that it will end the NSA’s bulk data collection, those in opposition to the bill, such as Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) say that it wouldn’t end the collection; it would only change the channels the government went through to collect Americans’ records.
While the USA Freedom Act was passed in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 338-88, it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate, with a 57-42 vote on Friday.
Congress adjourned for a week-long recess early Saturday, leaving the final decision on the future of Section 215 up to a last minute vote when they return on May 31, one day before the section is set to expire.
GOP Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been the face of the campaign to abolish the NSA’s surveillance program altogether. Paul took to the floor of the Senate for 10 hours and 30 minutes on Wednesday to filibuster the renewal of Section 215, and he was a prominent voice against the act’s extension, when it came to a vote on Friday, fighting back against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader, who pushed for an “clean” extension of the bill.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that if the Patriot Act expires altogether, the White House has no “Plan B.”
“The fact is I’m not aware of any ‘Plan B’ that exists or that is currently being contemplated,” Earnest said. “There are significant consequences for the Senate’s failure to act. It would certainly put at great risk these programs and could risk a lapse in some of these important national security capabilities.”
During the recess, the New York Times reported that senior lawmakers are “scrambling this week in rare recess negotiations to agree on a face-saving change to legislation” that would save a form of the NSA’s massive surveillance program.
The Obama administration joined in the campaign to support the USA Freedom Act, with President Obama urging the Senate to pass the Act, just as the House did.
“The House of Representatives did its work and came up with what they called the USA Freedom Act, which strikes an appropriate balance,” Obama said. “Our intelligence communities are confident that they can work with the authorities that are provided in that act passed on a bipartisan basis.”
In addition to the USA Freedom Act being passed on a bipartisan basis, Paul’s stance against it has also been a bipartisan effort. During his time on the Senate Floor speaking out against the Patriot Act, Paul was joined by seven Democrats and three Republicans.
Obama called out the Senate for not passing the USA Freedom Act, and said that the powers that are lost if the Patriot Act expires are ones that could hurt the security of the American people.
“The Senate did not act, and the problem we have now is that those authorities run out at midnight on Sunday,” Obama said. “So, I strongly urge the Senate to work through this recess and make sure that they identify a way to get this done.”
While Obama put emphasis on urging the Senate to act, Paul noted that the NSA’s bulk data collection was recently ruled illegal, and called the President disingenuous, because even though he said wanted to protect civil liberties, he has yet to stop the program.
Investigative journalist Ben Swann explained how section 215 of the Patriot Act is collecting the data of innocent Americans in an episode of Truth in Media: