– President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged the Senate to renew National Security Agency surveillance powers before they expire at midnight Sunday, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul vowed to keep working to block the Patriot Act and the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
“This needs to get done,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, asked what Obama was doing to round up votes, suggested, without naming him, that Paul needs to put the country first as he runs for the Republican nomination for president.
"Right now, I think what we're seeing is a difference of opinion on the Republican side of the aisle," Earnest said. "At some point, the political ambitions of individual members of the United States Senate are going to have to come second to the national security of the United States."
Obama called on the Senate to approve a House-passed bill that would change the phone record collection program while renewing less controversial Patriot Act provisions that also expire at the end of the month. The Senate rejected the House bill by three votes last weekend and is on a break until Sunday, just hours before the spying powers are scheduled to expire.
Obama said reauthorizing the surveillance efforts is “necessary to keep the American people safe and secure.”
“I strongly urge the Senate to work through this recess and make sure that they identify a way to get this done,” Obama said.
Paul said the House bill supported by Obama, under which the records would be kept by the phone companies instead of the government, doesn’t go far enough to stop the NSA from getting the data. He argued that Obama should be shutting down the bulk collection of phone records.
“Our founding fathers thought it was very important that warrants have an individual's name on it, that you couldn't have a warrant that said Verizon on it and collect all the records of all the people in America through one single warrant,” Paul said in a Tuesday appearance on “CBS This Morning.” “So I think I'm right in line with what the founders would have fought for.”
Under Senate rules Paul might be able to object to a vote when the Senate returns to work Sunday, pushing it past the midnight expiration date and forcing Congress to work on reviving the program later.
Paul said in a Tuesday fundraising email that he wouldn’t compromise.
“Five days,” the email said. “That's how long you and I have until the U.S. Senate meets in a rare Sunday session on May 31st where surveillance state apologists will do everything they can to RAM through an extension of the so-called "PATRIOT Act's" ILLEGAL and unconstitutional domestic spying programs.”
Paul said on “CBS This Morning,” that he wants Senate Republican leaders to allow him a majority vote on his Patriot Act amendments, including one to end the bulk collection program.
“I think we can win that vote,” he said.
Paul is on opposite sides of the issue from his fellow Kentucky Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who pushed without success to extend the NSA’s current spying powers. Paul’s objections on the Senate floor helped stop McConnell’s plan.
Paul made light of the conflict Tuesday, saying that he and McConnell are friends.
“I don’t think we need counseling yet,” he said.