Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul launched what his staff described as a filibuster of the Patriot Act on Wednesday, objecting to reauthorization of the law and the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
Paul, a Republican who is running for president, took the Senate floor at 1:19 PM and is expected to talk into the night as time grows short to renew Congressional authority for the National Security Agency’s spying program.
“There comes a time, there comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” Paul said as he began speaking. “That time is now and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts go unchallenged.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, also an opponent of the Patriot Act, took the floor about 3:30 P.M. and allowed Paul a break for about half an hour, with the two ment then alternating speaking.
It’s not technically a filibuster unless Paul keeps speaking beyond midnight, because the talkathon isn’t delaying anything in the Senate at this point. The Senate is wrapped up in trade bill but the next vote related to the bill isn’t scheduled until Thursday, and the Patriot Act reauthorization isn’t officially before the Senate.
Paul, though, is trying to make a big political point on a national stage, and by doing so is drawing important attention to himself. By promoting himself as the champion of civil libertarians, Paul hopes he can invigorate his often-lagging presidential effort. And by remaining the center of Senate attention for hours, he gets a spotlight that other colleagues seeking the White House – Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and probably Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – are not getting.
The timing is running short for the Patriot Act renewal. The Senate is scheduled to break on Friday for a weeklong recess and key Patriot Act provisions are set to expire on June 1. But if Paul keeps talking until tomorrow the Senate could just delay its break to focus on the Patriot Act.
Paul complained at the start of his filibuster that there wasn’t going to be an opportunity to debate the Patriot Act and have votes on his proposed amendments, one of which would end to the mass collection of phone records.
“There needs to be a thorough and complete debate on whether or not we should allow government to collect all our phone records all the time,” Paul said.
An appeals court ruled this month that the mass collection of phone records is illegal because it wasn’t properly authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. But the court let the program continue temporarily, effectively giving Congress a chance to rewrite the surveillance law.
Paul called on the Senate floor Wednesday for Obama to immediately halt the NSA spying program.
“Mr. President why do you continue to keep doing something the court has said is illegal?” he said.
The House of Representatives, with the president’s support, passed the USA Freedom Act last week with changes to the bulk collection system, but Paul said the measure didn’t go far enough.
Supporters of the NSA spying program, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. argue on the other side that the USA Freedom Act is too restrictive of the government’s surveillance powers. McConnell supports the bulk phone collection program and is pushing to renew it.
But it’s questionable whether there are the needed 60 votes in the Senate for either McConnell’s bill or the House bill, so the outcome is not clear.