The Senate voted on Sunday night to move forward on a bill to renew the National Security Agency’s spying powers, but Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was expected to block the measure from going into effect before the midnight expiration of the government’s power to collect Americans’ phone records.
Paul’s victory would likely be fleeting, with the overwhelming 77 to 17 test vote on a House-passed bill, the USA Freedom Act, which would allow an amended phone record collection program while also renewing other provisions of the Patriot Act.
While Paul was expected to use Senate rules to object and prevent a final vote on Sunday night, the bill could be passed as soon as Tuesday, so the NSA spying powers might lapse for little more than a day.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while not naming his fellow Kentucky Republican Paul, said on the Senate floor that his attempts to renew the NSA spying powers before the midnight deadline were derailed by a "campaign of demagoguery and disinformation."
McConnell wanted a straight renewal of the NSA spying powers and opposed the USA Freedom Act, under which phone companies would keep the records instead of the government. The NSA could access the data with a secret court order but McConnell argued it was a cumbersome process and that the phone companies would refuse to keep the records.
But, after his push to renew of the NSA’s powers failed, McConnell said Sunday that the House-passed bill is "the only realistic way forward. The bill fell three votes short in the Senate last weekend but won massive bipartisan support on Sunday with the program about to expire and after McConnell said he planned to attempt some "modest amendments" to the bill. The House would need to agree to any changes.
Paul conceded on Sunday that his push to end the NSA’s spying powers would only be temporarily successful, but said his delaying tactics were worthwhile.
"This is a debate over the Bill of Rights, this is a debate over the 4th amendment this is a debate over your right to be left alone," said Paul, who has made the issue the centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency.