Politico reports this morning that the NSA metadata surveillance program is on “death watch.” Section 215 of the Patriot Act — which authorizes the program — is set to expire at the end of the month.
A bipartisan group of Senators wants to pass the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which would end bulk surveillance by shifting the collection of phone metadata from government to phone companies. The Freedom Act passed the House by an overwhelming majority earlier this week — it’s also backed by the White House — and while it remains unclear whether 60 Senators support the measure, pressure is likely to mount on Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on it.
But McConnell wants to extend bulk surveillance until 2020. The rub, though, is that if nothing is done, Section 215 expires entirely. McConnell wants a short term extension, but backers of the Freedom Act are dead set on blocking, that, too. Which could leave McConnell with no option but to allow a vote on the Freedom Act. Which he doesn’t want to do. Hence the impasse.
Politico notes that Senators Rand Paul and Ron Wyden are vowing to filibuster McConnell’s push for an extension — whether temporary or long term.
Here’s more: A bipartisan talking filibuster is being considered by both Senators, aides to Paul and Wyden tell me. Paul is declining to rule out such a talking filibuster. If that happens, it would be a real rarity, at least in our current era.
“A bipartisan talking filibuster would be unusual in recent Senate history,” Betty Koed, the associate historian of the U.S. Senate tells me, adding that it hearkens back to the “mid-20th century,” when “people opposing a bill often came from factions within the two parties.”
That would be a pretty dramatic spectacle. Of course, it very well may not happen. We may see a more conventional filibuster (though that would be a bipartisan one, too, which would also be noteworthy). Or perhaps this will end in some other way. But even so, the rising bipartisan opposition underscores once again that a real left-right alliance, of libertarian conservatives and civil liberties progressives, may be coming together to put an end to most bulk surveillance. The potential drama here is also a reminder of just how rare such bipartisan alliances are these days.
And a great deal is at stake in this battle. But that brings us to our next item.
* WHAT’S AT STAKE IN NSA FIGHT: Don’t miss Charlie Savage’s terrific piece on what’s really at issue in the NSA fight: The question of how long a democracy can wage secret wars.
Secrecy has always been traditional and accepted in wartime, but traditional wars have an end. Under two administrations now, as the United States has remained on a permanent war footing against Al Qaeda and its splintering, morphing progeny, tensions over fighting battles in the shadows have steadily escalated. If this is a forever war, can a democracy wage it in secret?
Civil libertarians worry that parts of the surveillance program will still continue in secret even if the U.S.A. Freedom Act becomes law, but it would be a step in the right direction.
* THE LATEST ON THE AMTRAK CRASH: The Post reports that the crash could have been avoided, if “positive train control” technology had been installed. Congress has mandated that it be installed throughout the country by the end of the year, but:
The system that would have automatically slowed the train before it headed into a turn at twice its authorized speed is in operation on just 50 miles of the 226-mile route from Washington to New York City. Though Amtrak may meet the Dec. 31 deadline set by Congress for its Northeast routes, most of the rail lines in the rest of the country will not meet that mandate.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press has a look at how “positive train control” works and the back-story on Congress’ mandating of its installation.
* WHY AMTRAK DIDN’T HAVE TECHNOLOGY IN PLACE: The New York Times adds this:
Because lawmakers failed to provide the railroads access to the wireless frequencies required to make the system work, Amtrak was forced to negotiate for airwaves owned by private companies that are often used in mobile broadband….the railroad struggled for four years to buy the rights to airwaves in the Northeast Corridor that would have allowed them to turn the system on.
There will be a lot more reporting on this angle in the days ahead, one imagines.
* GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN LOOMS IN FLORIDA: Florida Governor Rick Scott has now written a letter to state agencies that warns: “Prepare a list of critical state services our citizens cannot lose in the event Florida is forced to shut down on July 1st.”
The letter comes as Florida lawmakers confront the possibility that they may fail to resolve their budget impasse without federal money to cover health care — which Scott and state House Republicans continue to demand on the condition that it isn’t part of Obamacare.
* WILL FAST TRACK PASS THE HOUSE? Now that Fast Track authority for Obama to negotiate trade deals seems to be sailing through the Senate, the Post takes a look at its prospects for the House, where it will be much harder. One interesting nugget: If enough House Republicans oppose it, that will require more Democrats, which may mean GOP leaders will have to attach a provision cracking down on currency manipulation to entice over enough Dems.
Key questions: Will there really be a tea party rebellion against Fast Track? I’m skeptical. But if so, what will GOP leaders concede to win over enough Dems to get it passed?
* O’MALLEY MOVES TOWARDS PRESIDENTIAL RUN: Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley tells supporters on a conference call that it’s all but certain:
O’Malley stopped short of explicitly confirming his bid for the White House, participants said. But he and aides outlined fundraising plans for the coming weeks and unveiled a new Web site…One former aide said that O’Malley told participants on his call that he is “more inclined than ever to put himself out there” for a longshot bid for the Democratic nomination…
We now have a real debate, even if Hillary Clinton’s victory seems all but assured. ICYMI: A quick guide to some of the questions from the left Clinton may now have to answer.
* HILLARY KEEPS DODGING ON TRADE: In a private meeting with supporters, Clinton reiterated her support for a Constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. But there was also this:
She avoided taking a position on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord, saying she first wants to see what comes out of Congress.
Well, okay, but where does Clinton stand on the Fast Track process, which is also extremely controversial among many Democrats, and may soon head to the president’s desk?