The PJ Tatler

Will the Senate Leave for Vacation without Handling the Patriot Act Expiration?

The Senate is planning on heading out of DC for their Memorial Day week long holiday, but they could leave some unfinished business behind.

This week is a busy one for the Senate as legislators are still working out details of that pesky trade bill and the deadline for re-authorizing the Patriot Act is looming. If Senator Rand Paul (R-TX) has his way, the Senators would head out for vacation without making a move on the Patriot Act.

“We could do something extraordinary,” the Kentucky Republican said Thursday. In the event of an outright lapse in the authorization, Paul said, “I see no reason why we couldn’t use the Constitution for awhile.”

As I wrote last week, Senator Paul has plans to filibuster any iteration of the Patriot Act that permits the government’s surveillance and data collection dragnet.

“With key so-called ‘PATRIOT Act’ provisions set to expire on May 31st, I’m leading the fight with a filibuster,” the presidential candidate said in a campaign fundraising email Friday. Supporters of the program “know if they keep this rogue spying program going, they’re going to have to railroad me in the process.”

Just last week the House voted on a Patriot Act alternative, the USA Freedom Act, passing it 338-88. The USA Freedom Act ends the governments bulk collection of phone records.  The ball is now in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s court, which puts him in a quandary.  McConnell supports the wholesale renewal of the Patriot Act including the surveillance elements.  The Senate Republicans are divided on the issue with McConnell and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) on board with the entire Patriot Act and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) supporting the USA Freedom Act and of course, Senator Rand Paul threatening a filibuster.

On Friday, McConnell suggests a two month extension for the Patriot Act, but Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) would have none of it. “Two months is two months too long,” the Senator tweeted.

The White House wants to see the USA Freedom Act passed in the Senate with spokesman Eric Schultz telling the media Obama did not want the Senate leaving town without moving the House.  Failure to do so would be “weakening our nation’s security and stand in the way of reforms … that would enhance the American people’s trust and confidence in the agencies tasked with protecting them.”

Part of the problem this week is that there might not be enough hours left before vacation to handle both the trade bill and the Patriot Act situation.  It should be an interesting week in the Senate indeed.