Senate filibuster of USA Patriot Act extension underway

Last week, the House overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 338-88 the USA Freedom Act, which would prevent the NSA from collecting metadata about the phone numbers people dial and when their calls are placed. House overwhelmingly passes USA Freedom Act, Senate GOP opposed.

NSA-SpyingThe Septuagenarian Ninja Turtle, Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans oppose the USA Freedom Act and are pushing to pass a “clean” extension of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which the NSA uses to justify its phone records program.

But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled bulk collection of phone records is not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Second Circuit rules NSA bulk collection of phone records is illegal. “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.” So what the Turtle Man and GOP senators want, the court has already ruled is illegal.

The Hill reports, Republicans in showdown over NSA spy program:

Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said he would allow a vote on legislation overhauling the nation’s surveillance programs, which could give him more leverage in the fight over the National Security Agency’s future.

The move means the Senate will vote this week on the USA Freedom Act — but it does not guarantee its passage.

While the bill was overwhelmingly approved in a 338-88 House vote last week and is backed by the White House and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) both oppose it.

So do a number of other hawkish Senate Republicans who argue it would endanger national security by preventing the government from holding metadata collected from phone calls.

Screenshot from 2015-01-25 15:31:49McConnell and GOP leaders expect this week’s vote to fail, which could give momentum to the Senate leader’s favored approach: a short-term extension of the Patriot Act provisions that authorize the NSA’s data collection.

“I certainly think we ought to allow a vote on the House-passed bill,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “If there are not enough votes to pass that, then we need to look at an alternative.”

“What makes most sense is to give senators a chance to vote on the House bill, and if that fails — and a version of that did fail last fall — then the alternative would be a short extension while we work out the differences,” added Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican.

* * *

Top House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have flatly rejected a “clean” extension of the Patriot Act provisions, even for a short period of time.

“I think when you get 338 [votes], we’re meeting somewhere in the middle,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday. “When you can get Republicans and Democrats beyond [a] veto-proof [majority] … I think that is a great bill for the Senate to take.”

But it remains unclear whether a majority of the House would oppose a stopgap bill if it is the only way to keep the NSA programs intact beyond June 1, when the current law expires.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told McConnell to pay attention to Boehner, who earlier in the day said that it was “time for the Senate to act.”

* * *

Congress is set to begin a weeklong Memorial Day recess at the end of the week. That means lawmakers would have to pass some kind of NSA legislation by Friday.

Senate backers of the USA Freedom Act have acknowledged they don’t currently have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

“I can’t count to 60 right now,” co-author Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” over the weekend.

Last year, a similar version of the USA Freedom Act came two votes shy of overcoming a GOP-led filibuster shortly before Democrats lost control of the Senate.

A filibuster threat also looms from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another presidential candidate who could have a lot to gain by staging a high-profile floor fight against the Patriot Act. Paul opposes both an extension of the Patriot Act and the USA Freedom Act.

The Senate’s schedule is also a potential stumbling block. In addition to the Patriot Act bill, the chamber needs to pass a trade bill [no it doesn’t] and renew highway funding [yes it does] before skipping town at the end of the week. If the House leaves Washington before the Senate finalizes a short-term extension, the lower chamber might not be able to take it up until June 1, hours after the NSA provisions have expired.

That’s your cue, Aqua Buddha.  Sen. Rand Paul begins Patriot Act filibuster:

aquabuddhaSen. Paul, who began speaking at 1:18 p.m., suggested that the agency’s phone records collection program could be the “tip of the iceberg” of the government’s surveillance practices. He said Americans must “decide as a country whether we value our Bill of Rights … or if we are willing to give that up so we feel safer.”

“Do we want to live in a world where the government knows everything about us?” he asked. “Do we want to live in a word where the government has us under constant surveillance?”

“I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged,” Paul said. “The bulk collection of all Americans’ phone records all of the time is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

* * *

The Senate is currently debating fast-track trade legislation, with a procedural vote expected Thursday, so Paul is actually blocking his Senate colleagues from offering, debating and voting on amendments to that bill — something Democrats were quick to highlight.

[UPDATE: Ed Kilgore calls it a Pre-Filibuster: to be clear, the bill on the floor is TPA. So Paul isn’t filibustering; he’s sort of engaging in a pre-filibuster.]

Still, Paul appears poised to deliver a long speech from the floor that could tie up the Senate for hours.

Paul has made his opposition to NSA surveillance one of the cornerstones of his presidential campaign, and has pledged that he would end the “unconstitutional” program on his first day as president.

As Paul began Wednesday’s speech, his campaign sent out an email on the NSA speech to supporters, seeking to build momentum.

“I will not rest. I will not back down. I will not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand,” Paul wrote in the email.

* * *

Paul has used the Senate floor to his advantage before, famously staging a 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director in 2013. On Wednesday, Paul suggested that without his speech, there wouldn’t be a real debate in Congress on the Patriot Act.

“We are mired in a debate over trade. There’s another debate over the highway bill and the word is, we won’t actually get any time to debate if we’re going to abridge the Fourth Amendment,” he said.

* * *

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) joined Paul on the floor, saying that no matter how the Kentucky Republican’s speech ends, senators will have a chance to debate the Patriot Act.

“This will not be the last time we are back on the floor,” he said. “My colleague has made a number of very important points already.”

Wyden is leading an effort to move forward on the trade legislation. He said it is his “hope” that once an agreement is found on a path forward on the trade legislation, “it will be possible to resume our work on that very important bill.”

* * *

Senators are facing a looming deadline for action on the Patriot Act, with key provisions set to expire June 1.

If both bills fail, the Senate could be forced to pass a short-term extension of the spy powers — though it’s unclear whether a stopgap measure could pass muster with the House, which passed the USA Freedom Act last week in a resounding vote.

House Republican leaders do not appear inclined to cave to Senate Republican leaders. House conservatives: McConnell push for clean Patriot Act a ‘waste of time’:

House GOP lawmakers on Wednesday derided Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) push to renew expiring provisions of the Patriot Act without any changes.

* * *

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), one of the most vocal proponents of ending the NSA’s data collection of Americans’ phone records, said McConnell’s crusade is futile.

“I think it’s a waste of time for Mitch McConnell to really even talk about it, because it has no chance here in the House and I believe it has no chance in the Senate,” Amash said during an event on Capitol Hill moderated by the Heritage Foundation.

Amash warned that weakening reforms in the House-passed legislation would be untenable.

“I think if they water it down any more, it’ll be in real trouble.”

* * *

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) dismissed McConnell’s position on a clean extension as mere “posturing” until the Senate clears the House-passed bill.

Meanwhile, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) went even further and suggested Congress should do away with the 2001 law altogether.

“I think we should allow the Patriot Act to expire completely,” Labrador said.

The NSA announced today that the NSA will begin winding down spying program this weekend:

Key parts of the Patriot Act are not set to expire until the end of the month, but the National Security Agency (NSA) will begin winding down a controversial program run under that law this week, according to the Justice Department.

“[A]fter May 22, 2015, it will become increasingly difficult for the government to avoid a lapse in the current NSA program of at least some duration,” the Justice Department said in a memo circulated to congressional offices Wednesday.

Patriot Act provisions that the NSA uses to justify its controversial bulk collection of metadata about U.S. phone calls are among those slated to expire at month’s end.

But after Friday, “the National Security Agency will need to begin taking steps to widndown the bulk telephone metadata program,” the Justice Department said in its memo. That action is necessary “to ensure that it does not engage in any unauthorized collection or use of the metadata.”

“NSA will attempt to ensure that any shutdown of the program occurs as close in time as possible to the expiration of the authority, assuming the program has not been reauthorized in some form prior to the scheduled sunset” on June 1, the Justice Department added.

Additionally, Friday is the last day for the Obama administration to request a renewal of the current program from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the NSA’s actions and weighs in every three months.

The Wednesday memo significantly increases the pressure on the Senate to act before lawmakers leave for their Memorial Day recess.

Keep talking, Aqua Buddha. You just might make this filibuster work if you have the stamina. This is only possible because the Turtle Man loaded up the Senate calendar this week (the Fast-Track and Trans-Pacific trade agreement, still being negotiated, did not have to be on the Senate calendar this week. That is still inexplicable to me.)

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