WASHINGTON — On Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made good on a threat to filibuster his colleagues’ attempts to extend some provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire June 1.
“Congress hasn’t shown sufficient interest in what executive branch does on a host of things,” said Paul on the Senate floor, accusing some of his colleagues of neglecting to exercise oversight of the National Security Administration. “Once upon a time, we had a standard in our country that was ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ We’ve given up on so much. Now people are talking about a standard that is if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” Paul continued.
An aide in Paul’s office confirmed that the presidential hopeful plans to speak for as long as he is capable. Procedurally, he can hold the floor until 1pm Thursday, when the Senate is set to vote on cloture to a trade bill.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, briefly joined his colleague on the floor, more than two hours into Paul’s filibuster.
If precedent is any indication, Paul’s speech could last late into the night, or even into early morning hours. In March 2013, he spoke for 13 hours on drone warfare transparency in reference to the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan.
With the Senate scheduled to recess next week for the Memorial Day holiday, there is limited time to address the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) favors a five-year clean reauthorization of the existing laws.
However, he conceded Tuesday that he would allow the Senate to vote on a House-passed bill to curb the NSA’s spying authorities. An overwhelming 438 members in the House voted in favor of the bill.
Paul’s filibuster comes after 60 members of the House, who voted against a bill to reform the NSA because they felt the legislation did not go far enough, urged the Senate on Wednesday to amend the bill to further rein in the agency’s capabilities.
In a letter to Senate leadership drafted by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the bill’s dissenters claim they are not alone in their concerns. “Many of our colleagues felt similarly, supporting the bill only out of concern the Senate would be unwilling to engage in more comprehensive reform,” the letter reads.
To Senate supporters of NSA reform, the letter was further evidence that McConnell’s preference to extend the Patriot Act is untenable.
“The takeaway is that even House members who voted against USA Freedom strongly oppose mass surveillance. The House has spoken clearly that it will not accept an extension of mass surveillance,” said an aide in Wyden’s office.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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