Tensions between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over the renewal of the Patriot Act spilled out onto the Senate floor Wednesday, two days before the measure extending the counterterrorism surveillance law is set to expire.
Reid took to the floor Wednesday afternoon to publicly accuse Paul of holding up progress on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Reid said the conservative freshman and founding member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus was endangering national security by pressing for an amendment that would prevent certain gun records from being searched under the law.
“It’s all dealing with a gun amendment,” Reid said of the controversy over the latest Patriot Act renewal. He added that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had “asked us not to allow a moment’s interruption” in the intelligence community’s ability to protect the American people.
A few minutes later, Paul addressed the chamber, saying that he was responding to the “scurrilous accusation” by Reid that he was “in favor of putting weapons in the hands of terrorists.”
“Can we not have a debate on a higher plane, a debate over whether or not there should be some constitutional protections?” Paul asked.
“Do we want a lawless land?” he added. “Do we want a land, a government without so much restraint that at any time they can come into your house? We were very worried about that. That’s why our country was founded on principles such as the Fourth Amendment.”
Democrats, Paul charged, were “petrified to vote on issues of guns because they know that a lot of people in America favor the Second Amendment” and believe the Constitution grants them “the right to have those records not sifted through by the government.”
Paul then asked the chamber for unanimous consent that three of his amendments be in order and then requested one hour of debate on each. Reid immediately stood up to object. The Senate then resumed debate on the four budget measures it was slated to vote on later in the day.
Paul and Reid were not the only ones to speak out strongly on the Patriot Act on Wednesday. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) took to the floor earlier to blast Senate leaders for not keeping their pledge to have a full week of debate and consideration of amendments on the measure.
“This is not a Patriot Act,” Udall said. “Patriots stand up for the Constitution. Patriots stand up for freedom and liberty that’s embodied in the Constitution. And I think true patriots, when they’re public servants, public servants stand up and do what’s right, even if it’s unpopular.”