Parts of the Patriot Act — including section 215, under which the National Security Agency collects telephone metadata — were set to expire at midnight, but the legislation will probably be on President Obama’s desk in a few days.
The Senate voted in Sunday session 77-17 on a cloture vote to advance the House-approved USA FREEDOM Act, which was the last vote of the evening.
But before it was all wrapped up, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had testy exchanges with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — and suggested some on the Hill were wishing for a terrorist attack to spite him.
“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. One of the people in the media the other day came up to me and said, oh, when there’s a great attack aren’t you going to feel guilty you caused this attack?” Paul said on the floor.
“It’s like the people who attack us are responsible for attacks on us. Do we blame the police chief for the attack of the Boston bombers? The thing is that there can be attacks even if we use the Constitution, but there have been attacks while collecting your bulk data. So the ones who say when an attack occurs it’s going to be all your fault, are any of them willing to accept the blame, we have bulk collection now, are any of them willing to accept the blame for the Boston bombing, for the recent shooting in Garland? No, but they’ll be the first to point fingers and say, oh, yeah it’s all your fault, we never should have given up on this great program.”
Paul noted that the Patriot Act expiration “will only be temporary.”
“They will ultimately get their way. But I think the majority of the American people actually do believe government has gone too far,” he added.
“…People say you’re destroying yourself, you should have never done this, the American people won’t side with you. And people wish me harm and wish that this will be unsuccessful. But you know what, I came here to defend the Bill of Rights and to defend the constitution, popular or not, but I frankly think that the Bill of Rights and the constitution are very popular, very important, and I will continue as long as I have breath and as long as I’m here to defend them and with that.”
A couple dozen Paul supporters wearing “Stand With Rand” T-shirts were in the gallery during the debate.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said the midnight expiration of “this dragnet surveillance is a victory for the principle that Americans do not need to sacrifice liberty to have security.”
“I have worked for this moment since I first learned about this flawed and illegal program almost a decade ago,” Wyden said. “Congress now has the opportunity to build on this victory by making meaningful and lasting reforms to US surveillance laws.”
“After Republican leaders stalled for months in a failed attempt to rerun their old playbook for extending mass surveillance, they now have no excuse for not allowing a full debate on the USA Freedom Act as soon as possible. In my view this is the best way to bring new transparency and reforms to U.S. surveillance programs and to bring certainty to our intelligence agencies.”
Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blamed McConnell, not Paul, for the Patriot Act provision expiration.
“In spite of all the warning signs, the Senate’s Majority Leader set up a collision course with no plan as to how to resolve it,” Reid said on the floor today. “It seems that the only plan the Majority Leader had on FISA was to jam through an extension at midnight last Friday.”
“…I disagree with the junior Senator from Kentucky. But we are not in this mess today because of the junior Senator from Kentucky. We are where we are because of the Majority Leader. The Majority Leader should have seen this coming.”
McConnell said allowing the Patriot Act to sunset would be “based on a campaign of disinformation, in the face of growing, aggressive, and sophisticated threats.”
“It’s a totally unacceptable outcome. We won’t be doing that,” he said. “And so, we’re left with option two, the House-passed bill. It’s not ideal but, along with votes on some modest amendments that attempt to ensure the program can actually work as promised, it’s now the only realistic way forward. And I remain determined to continue working toward the best outcome for the American people possible under the circumstances.”