Open thread: Senate to vote on USA Freedom act

The Senate has busied itself with the NSA and its operations under the Patriot Act for weeks, but it appears that it will come to a denouement one way or the other this afternoon. The upper chamber took a short break this afternoon, but it will reconvene in the next few minutes to start holding votes on amendments to the House’s USA Freedom Act, which passed a cloture vote 83-14 earlier today. Suffice it to say that Barack Obama will likely ready his pen this evening, or perhaps tomorrow if the House has to debate changes made in the Senate, if any.


If CNN’s latest polling is accurate, six in ten Americans will be happy the crisis is over:

Americans overwhelmingly want to see Congress renew the law enabling the government to collect data on the public’s telephone calls in bulk, though they are split on whether allowing that law to expire increases the risk of terrorism in the U.S.

With the provisions of the Patriot Act which allow the National Security Administration to collect data on Americans’ phone calls newly expired, a new CNN/ORC poll finds 61% of Americans think the law ought to be renewed, including majorities across party lines, while 36% say it should not be reinstated. …

About half of Americans, 52%, say that if the law is not renewed, the risk of terrorism here in the U.S. would remain about the same. Still, a sizable 44% minority feel that without the law, the risk of terrorism will rise. Just 3% feel it would decrease.

That’s a curious split. There’s a seventeen-point gap between those who think the law makes a difference and those who want it reinstated. What’s the rationale for thinking it makes no difference but renewing it anyway? Maybe it’s a “just in case” position, figuring it’s better to be safe than sorry, even if you’re not quite sure you’ll be safer either way. It makes that majority support for the law look a mile wide and an inch thick.

It’s even more interesting when looking at Barack Obama’s polling numbers on the issue. His approval on “government surveillance of US citizens” is 29/67, an abysmal figure. It’s worse than what Obama scored the month after the Snowden revelations of NSA activity and exposure of James Clapper’s lie to Congress (35/61). And yet 61% want to give Obama the authority he has requested to keep a somewhat-reformed version (arguably not much change at all) of the same programs in place. Go figure.


Nevertheless, the Senate seems set to give Obama what he wants, and what Americans say they want:

The Senate advanced the USA Freedom Act today, putting lawmakers one step closer to passing legislation to reform the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.

With a vote of 83-14, the Senate cleared a major procedural hurdle by invoking cloture on the USA Freedom Act, which has passed the House and would end the government’s bulk collection of telephone data, instead requiring the information be stored by the telephone companies.

But a fight looms over amendments championed by hawkish Republicans in the Senate. The upper chamber is expected to vote on amendments to the USA Freedom Act and potentially on final passage this afternoon.

Rand Paul and Ron Wyden offered nine amendments for votes today, but a group of House lawmakers warned against making changes to the bill:

On Monday afternoon, House backers of the USA Freedom Act denounced the Senate’s plan to amend it.

“These amendments only serve to weaken the House-passed bill and postpone timely enactment of legislation that responsibly protects national security while enhancing civil liberty protections,” said the statement by Republican Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who chairs the judiciary committee, and three other key members.

“The House is not likely to accept the changes proposed by Senator McConnell…These amendments will likely make that sunset permanent. The Senate must act quickly to pass the USA Freedom Act without amendment.”

In other words, it’s not over until it’s over. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s not done being over until it’s done being over, or something. Obama may want to keep the pen on ice for a bit longer.


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