Competing USA Freedom Act vs. USA Patriot Act extension votes this weekend

aquabuddhaWhen last we checked in on Senator Aqua Buddha, Rand Paul (R-KY), he was conducting a not-really-a-filibuster of the USA Patriot Act extension, which was not the bill under consideration on the Senate floor at the time.

As filibusters go, it was not a serious effort, and it only accomplished pushing back the Senate’s calendar into Saturday. Paul’s filibuster wraps up after more than 10 hours .

So the take away from Aqua Buddha’s stunt is that: (1) he is not seriously committed to the constitutional and civil liberties principles that he claims to represent; (2) he did it only to draw attention to himself and his presidential campaign, and to raise campaign funds off of it (he sent out a fundraising email before his stunt began); and (3) Aqua Buddha is just a grifter like his old man, the village idiot Ron Paul, shaking down the rubes and relieving them of the money in their pocket. Grifting is the Paul family business.

So where do things stand with the USA Patriot Act provisions set to expire at the end of the month?

With just hours to go until the NSA begins to wind down its massive phone records collection program, the Senate is prepared to hold a rare weekend voting session to keep the Patriot Act alive. Senate scrambles to save Patriot Act:

NSA-SpyingSenate GOP leaders have their backs up against the wall. Ahead of the prospect that three portions of the Patriot Act die, some Republicans seem inclined to allow for legislation that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says would gut the NSA’s ability to protect the country.

Democrats appear united in support of an NSA reform bill called the USA Freedom Act, after Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) reportedly said that he would support the bill on Thursday.

At least a half-dozen Republicans are also sure bets to vote for it, and multiple others have signaled that they are undecided.

“I think they’re open,” said Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), one of the Republican co-sponsors of the USA Freedom Act. “I’ve talked to several of my colleagues that will give USA Freedom Act a shot. They’ll support it.”

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House leaders have made clear that they are leaving town for a week-long recess on Thursday afternoon, after overwhelmingly passing the USA Freedom Act 338-88 last week. The bill would end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records — known as metadata — and reauthorize three expiring portions of the Patriot Act that NSA and FBI officials say authorize important tools to track terrorists.

The Patriot Act provisions expire on the morning of June 1 — the same day that the House is scheduled to return from its Memorial Day recess. Unless the Senate passes the House bill, those provisions will expire, at least temporarily.

“The House has acted. It’s time for the Senate to act,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Thursday, repeating a line he has given multiple times this week. “If they act, we’ll take a look at what they do and make a decision on how to proceed.”

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said that the NSA would need to begin winding down the phone records program if there is not a legislative solution by Friday.

“Once the House leaves, we either take the House bill or end the whole Patriot Act,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), one of the authors of the USA Freedom Act. “The choices are very simple.”

McConnell has scheduled a vote for that bill on Saturday. If it fails — as he expects — the chamber will then vote on a two-month extension of current law, to give lawmakers time to work out their differences.

The White House won’t rule out short-term NSA extension, but a short term extension also may not have the 60 votes needed for cloture in the Senate, and the House has said that it does not support a short term extension of the USA Patriot Act.

What we have here is a small group of “security state” Republican senators trying to have their way on continuing the NSA spy program for bulk collection of phone records, even though the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that it is not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Second Circuit rules NSA bulk collection of phone records is illegal, and is prepared to rule on the constitutionality of the spy program. In a 97-page ruling (.pdf), a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [unanimously] held that a provision of the USA Patriot Act known as Section 215 cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic calling records.”

The New York Times reports, Senate Is Sharply Split Over Extension of N.S.A. Phone Data Collection:

With the federal government’s bulk collection of phone records set to expire in June, senators remained deeply divided on Thursday over whether to extend the program temporarily or accept significant changes that the House overwhelmingly approved last week.

The chamber seemed broken into three camps, with more than half — but not enough to reach a 60-vote threshold — supportive of the House measure that would prohibit the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of metadata charting telephone calls made by Americans. A far smaller number, led by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, prefer to extend the program, at least for the short term.

Several other senators — who are vital to passage of the House version of the bill — do not like the House measure, but fear that an extension lacks votes and that the program will expire, which intelligence agents insist will rob them of a crucial tool to monitor potential terrorists. As such, at least a handful of senators who previously said they would not support the House bill were reconsidering.

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It was clear that many lawmakers in both chambers preferred that the law lapse, rather than renew it in its current form. Senate Republican leaders “are underestimating the strength of the opposition,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. “I’m not going to vote for an extension of a law that has recently been declared illegal by a federal circuit court.”

The measure expires June 1, and it is not clear that the Senate will vote before completing work on a major trade bill as early as Friday. Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday that he expected both measures to fail on the Senate floor Friday afternoon. He expected the leadership to respond with a measure that would extend the program from “roughly five days to four weeks” while the committees iron out a new approach.

An extension of perhaps two weeks seemed possible as senators worked through potential compromises.

“Well, nobody wants us to go dark on our ability to detect terrorist activity,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican. “So I imagine there will be some very urgent discussions and we’ll work something out that will get us to a place where we can have deliberate debate and amendments and votes. My view is there will be an extension, I just can’t tell you how long.”

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Many senators said that a federal appeals court decision this month that ruled the program illegal had sealed their intention to reject an extension of the program. “We either take the House bill or end the Patriot Act,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Those are the only choices.”

The views were formed in part because it seemed increasingly likely Thursday that the House would not vote to simply extend the program as a compromise with the Senate. “The House is not going to pass a two-month extension,” said Senator Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado.

On Thursday, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report on how the F.B.I. used Section 215 of the Patriot Act in the Bush and Obama administrations. The report criticizes the Justice Department for taking seven years to put in place a set of privacy protection rules for information on Americans gathered via court orders under that statute.

Congress required it to do so in 2006, but the executive branch did not fully comply until 2013. The new report served to highlight that while the bulk phone record collection received the most attention, it also has other investigative uses, like obtaining Internet activity logs for the purpose of a national security investigation.

The inspector general report said that its examination of these less sweeping uses of the business records orders from 2007 to 2009 did not “identify any major case developments that resulted from records obtained through Section 215 orders” but that agents nevertheless believed it was and continued to be a “valuable investigative tool.”

The fight over the Patriot Act provisions are more ideological than partisan, reflected in a growing movement among Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans to change the law.

This should make for an interesting series of votes on Friday and Saturday. There is the real possibility that no bill has enough votes to pass and the USA Patriot Act provisions will expire, forcing the NSA spy program to go dark.

It will not be because of the actions of Sen. Aqua Buddha.

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