Well, he’ll try to filibuster it, but it might be harder than it seems. Sen. Rand Paul told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on New Day that Senate rules complicate filibusters more than people know, but he intends to do what he can to block consideration of any extension of the Patriot Act, or even the reform package called the Freedom Act that passed the House on a wide bipartisan basis. That may leave his fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell in a very tight spot:
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Quickly I want to ask you about the vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act. It’s coming up this week or the House version of it called the Freedom Act. This week in the Senate, all eyes on you. Are you going to filibuster this?
SEN. RAND PAUL: I’ll do whatever it takes to stop it. Whether or not I’m allowed to filibuster is another question. There’s sort of a paper filibuster that you can always do, demanding that there’s 60 votes and objecting, not giving them consent to proceed. That I will do.
So I will do a formal filibuster. Whether or not that means I can go to the Floor, some of that depends on what happens because you’re not always allowed, people don’t realize this, but you have to get to the Floor when the Floor allows you to come.
So whether that happens or not, I will filibuster the Patriot Act and I will do everything I can to try to adhere to the courts. The courts have now said the bulk collection of records is illegal. They should stop immediately.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: If you’re allowed to filibuster, you plan to talk for 13 hours or whatever it takes?
SEN. RAND PAUL: Well nobody can predict how long you can talk, but I plan on doing everything humanly possible to try to stop the Patriot Act.
McConnell has tried to push through a clean reauthorization, but the House has already signaled that they won’t pass it. In fact, they’re now threatening to leave town, which will make their Freedom Act a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr has a Plan B to deal with it, but it’s not clear that he’ll have the votes to pass it, let alone survive a filibuster:
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr is working on a “backup” plan to extend the Patriot Act’s surveillance authorities before they expire at the end of the month, even as House leaders threaten to jam the Senate with their spying-reform bill.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday pushed the Senate to pass a House bill reauthorizing parts of the National Security Agency’s bulk phone-records program and said his chamber will not remain in session to wait for the Senate despite the end-of-May deadline.
But even as McCarthy made his threat, senators supportive of the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. call data indicated that they aren’t concerned about the House using the calendar against them. And the time crunch won’t prevent them from seeking other alternatives.
Burr says the House bill is the operational equivalent to expiration, so the Senate has nothing to lose by taking its time:
“You’ve got to understand, I look at [USA Freedom] and I think that’s the same as expiration,” Burr said. “So, if it expires or you pass [USA Freedom], you end up with the same thing—you end up with a program that’s not working.”
This leaves Congress split on three sides — full extension, reform bill, or full expiration. All three sides are within the GOP caucuses, although not exclusive to them. No one can even agree on the definitions at the moment; Burr thinks the House bill is the same as killing the program, while Paul thinks it’s the same thing as an extension, and the House thinks it has reformed the NSA’s authorization. They have two weeks to just get on the same set of definitions, let alone the same page policy-wise, and no one’s budging an inch.
Needless to say, this kind of disconnect does not bode well for the NSA’s continued Section 215 operations, whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent. The Obama administration and its National Security Council had better dust off Plan C, D, and Z for life after 215.