A measure that would extend key provisions of the Patriot Act has hit a speed bump after an impasse between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Senate leaders over gun rights.
Paul, a conservative freshman who has been among the most vociferous opponents of the counterterrorism surveillance law, had been pushing for eight amendments to the four-year Patriot Act extension that Congress is considering this week. The measure currently extending the Act is set to expire Friday.
The Senate had been poised to approve final passage of the Patriot Act renewal later Wednesday, but amid objections from Paul – who had threatened to hold up passage of the bill unless it included an amendment that would have exempted certain gun records from being searched – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Tuesday night scrapped the original plan and reintroduced the measure through a procedural move that would prevent it from being blocked.
“They ramrodded me. ... We’re going to get no debate and no amendments,” Paul said Tuesday night in a brief interview after Reid moved to reintroduce the bill.
Under the new timeline, the Senate will likely vote on ending debate on the Patriot Act extension at 10 a.m. Thursday, with a 60-vote threshold needed to progress on the measure. A final-passage vote on the Patriot Act would likely come as early as 7 a.m. Friday – the day the current extension is set to expire.
Reid said at a news conference Wednesday that “we’re going to try to get out of here tomorrow or the next day at the latest” and predicted that the Patriot Act extension would pass “by an overwhelming margin.”
Reid added that Senate leaders had agreed to votes on up to six amendments, “but Rand Paul put a screeching halt to that because of the gun issue.”
The House — which agreed Tuesday to immediately take up the extension of the Patriot Act provisions as soon as the Senate passes the bill — was originally scheduled to be out of session Friday for the Memorial Day recess.
But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) advised members Wednesday afternoon to “make contingency travel plans for Thursday and Friday” as it was possible that the House would be in session both days.
The eleventh-hour wrangling over the Patriot Act renewal underscores both the bipartisan support for – and opposition to – the 2001 surveillance law. In February, both chambers scrambled to pass a 90-day extension of the three key provisions amid concerns from members, particularly new House members, over the balance between civil liberties and national security.
At the time, Reid had pledged to devote a week’s worth of time to debate on the act’s renewal and said he would work with members who wished to offer amendments that would tighten oversight of the government’s surveillance ability.
But as the Friday deadline neared, it appeared unlikely that a full week of debate would be taken up in either chamber, with a deal on a four-year extension instead hammered out by Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) behind closed doors. The House – the chamber that has typically seen greater opposition to the Patriot Act than the Senate – has barely debated the issue on the floor, although FBI Director Robert Mueller held a closed-door briefing with House Republicans earlier this month and with Democrats on Tuesday morning.
In an effort to push Senate leaders to take up amendments to the measure, Paul remained alone in the Senate chamber Tuesday afternoon even as most other members headed over to the House chamber for an address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The move was an attempt to prevent the Senate from recessing and thus allowing leaders to move on with the bill.
While Paul has been the most outspoken opponent of the Patriot Act in the Senate, other members – including Democratic Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) – announced on a conference call Tuesday that they would vote against the extension and also objected to the Senate leadership’s move to block any amendments from being considered.
“Many Americans have been demanding reforms to these provisions for years,” Udall said in a statement. “We’ve known for months -- years, in fact -- that this was on our to-do list this Congress. We’ve been passing short-term extensions in order to give us time to consider a comprehensive overhaul. Yet we’re now being pushed to approve a four-year straight reauthorization in just a few days. Trust me, we have time and should take that time for a full debate.”
Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.