Senate Republicans, including NSA opponent Rand Paul, kill surveillance limiting bill
Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a measure to overhaul the NSA monitoring program, the collection of records and phone calls. Democrats and a few Republicans failed to rally enough support to reach 60 votes needed to take legislation.
One vote was from Rand Paul, an opponent of the surveillance, claiming that he voted against the USA Freedom Act because it extended the Patriot Act provision saying that he “felt bad” that the bill failed, because it “probably needed my vote.” Paul also claimed the country was “one step closer to restoring civil liberties,” because the Patriot Act provision’s expiration date will not be extended.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who drafted the bill, blamed what he said was fear-mongering by the bill’s opponents for its defeat. “Fomenting fear stifles serious debate and constructive solutions,” he said. “This nation deserves more than that.”
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, worked hard to defeat the bill, which had the support of the Obama administration and a coalition of technology companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs,” McConnell said before the vote, expressing the concerns of those who argued that the program was a vital tool in the fight against terrorism.
Tuesday’s vote only put off until next year a debate over security and personal liberties. While a Republican-controlled Senate is less likely to go along with the kinds of reforms that were in the bill, the new Congress will likely be working against a hard deadline because the legal authority for the data collection will expire.
Under the bill, which grew out of the disclosures in June 2013 by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, the NSA would have gotten out of the business of collecting Americans’ phone records.
Instead, most of the records would have stayed in the hands of the phone companies, which would not have been required to hold them any longer than they already do for normal business purposes, which in some cases is 18 months.