Sen. Rand Paul said Saturday that he won’t strike any deal to allow a vote on renewing the Patriot Act before it expires at midnight Sunday.
“So tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program,” the Kentucky Republican said in a written statement.
Unless the Senate acts by Sunday at midnight, three provisions of the Patriot Act will expire, including the controversial Section 215, which has been used to justify the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ telephone records.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called the Senate back early from its weeklong Memorial Day recess to make a final push at a rare Sunday night session to renew the Patriot Act before the authorities lapse. But under Senate rules of unanimous consent, it’s not clear how McConnell can have any final votes at all on Sunday if Paul objects, pushing the issue into next week – after the NSA’s spying powers have expired.
Paul has demanded the Senate vote on his amendments, including an end to the bulk phone records collection program, with only a majority of 51 votes needed to pass rather than 60. Senate leaders haven’t agreed.
“Tomorrow, we will come back with just hours left before the NSA illegal spying powers expire. ... I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies. But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them. In fact, we must not,” Paul said.
Paul has made the fight against the phone record collection program the centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency, sending out constant fundraising appeals tied to it.
“I have fought for several years now to end the illegal spying of the NSA on ordinary Americans,” Paul said in his Saturday statement. “The callous use of general warrants and the disregard for the Bill of Rights must end. Forcing us to choose between our rights and our safety is a false choice and we are better than that as a nation and as a people.
He added that “I do not do this to obstruct. I do it to build something better, more effective, more lasting, and more cognizant of who we are as Americans.”
Paul’s position puts him in conflict with his fellow Kentucky Republican McConnell, who argues the phone record collection program is important for national security, and who has been pushing without success to renew it.
Paul is also opposed by President Barack Obama, who is advocating for a House-passed bill that would change the phone record collection program so the phone companies would hold the records rather than the NSA, which could access it with a secret court order. The House bill also would renew less controversial Patriot Act provisions also set to expire.
“Heaven forbid we’ve got a problem where we could have prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity, but we didn’t do so simply because of inaction in the Senate,” Obama said on Friday.