When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing.
That’s pretty much what the Senate did after a sort of showdown occurred in the early morning hours Saturday over the fate of the Patriot Act.
Senators voted on a new bill called the USA Freedom Act that would replace the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which the National Security Agency (NSA) has used as legal authorization to collect large amounts of phone records data.
As expected, proponents of the Freedom Act could not muster the 60 votes needed for passage, although they came much closer than expected. The vote was 57-42.
The vote came after a series of speeches by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican hawks calling for party members to vote the measure down.
McConnell then called for a vote on his own bill, which plainly reauthorizes the surveillance powers in the existing Patriot Act — including Section 215 — until 2020. McConnell couldn’t muster 60 votes either, his bill was voted down 54-45.
The Freedom Act passed easily in the House of Representatives earlier this week, but in the Senate a stalemate exists between Republican senior leadership and a group of libertarian Senators — like Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) — who refuse to fall in line.
Paul is openly using the government surveillance reform issue as a rallying call in his bid for the presidency.
As expected, McConnell then pushed for several lengths of extensions for the Patriot Act early Saturday, but members of the Senate, including Paul, objected. McConnell appeared visibly shaken.
Paul claimed victory on Twitter for holding off the extensions:
Patriot Act filibuster successful and ongoing. Bulk phone record collection set to expire.
— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 23, 2015
The Senate decided to reconvene next Sunday to work on the matter, with just hours to come to a resolution. McConnell’s chances of forcing an extension of the Patriot Act get better as days pass in front of the deadline.
The White House has been applying steady pressure to the Senate to pass the Freedom Act. It has even announced that the NSA has already begun to shut down parts of the digital surveillance apparatus authorized by the Patriot Act. But in a legal sense, Section 215 is still part of the law.
Reform Government Surveillance, a pressure group formed by tech companies including Google and Facebook, penned an open letter May 19 urging members of Congress to pass “meaningful” government surveillance reform this week.
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