Rand Paul Takes Credit for Advancing NSA Reform Bill He Opposes

He says his filibuster raised awareness on the issue, even if he doesn’t like the USA Freedom Act.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) does a live interview with FOX News in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Dustin Volz and Alex Rogers
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Dustin Volz and Alex Rogers
June 1, 2015, 2:52 p.m.

Sen. Rand Paul is tak­ing cred­it for ad­van­cing a bill he op­poses.

A day after for­cing a tem­por­ary shut­down of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s bulk col­lec­tion of Amer­ica’s metadata, the Ken­tucky Re­pub­lic­an said Monday night that his ac­tions ac­tu­ally boos­ted the sur­veil­lance-re­form bill known as the USA Free­dom Act, which will likely pass the Sen­ate in the com­ing days des­pite his re­peated—and vo­ci­fer­ous—ob­jec­tions that it doesn’t go far enough pro­tect­ing the pri­vacy rights of Amer­ic­ans.

Not­ing that the Sen­ate failed to get the re­quis­ite 60 votes be­fore Me­mori­al Day re­cess and sub­sequently voted over­whelm­ing Sunday to move the bill for­ward, Paul told re­port­ers as he left the Cap­it­ol that his block­ade of the bill helped Free­dom Act ad­voc­ates.

“The gov­ern­ment will no longer be col­lect­ing in bulk all Amer­ic­ans’ re­cords un­der a gen­er­al­ized war­rant,” he said. “So I think that’s a big step for­ward.”

“I like to look at the bright side of things,” Paul ad­ded. “Be­fore I got in­volved there were 57 votes. Even though I ob­ject to the fi­nal vote, there’s now 77 votes for end­ing bulk col­lec­tion. So you could say that I—in an un­usu­al way—per­suaded 20 people to switch their vote and to vote to end bulk col­lec­tion. It’s kind of a dif­fer­ent way of per­suad­ing people, but it seemed to work.”

Paul held up con­sid­er­a­tion of the Free­dom Act dur­ing a rare Sunday ses­sion called to try to stave off the lapse of the Pat­ri­ot Act’s spy au­thor­it­ies—which ex­pired the mo­ment the cal­en­dar turned over to June. The pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate has re­peatedly said he would re­lent in gum­ming up the pro­cess if he were al­lowed simple-ma­jor­ity votes on two amend­ments to the Free­dom Act he is seek­ing, but the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship has re­fused.

On Monday, Paul again ob­jec­ted to al­low­ing the Sen­ate to move more quickly on vot­ing on the Free­dom Act when Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell sought un­an­im­ous con­sent to pro­ceed, con­tinu­ing his delay tac­tics even though the ex­pir­a­tion has already come and gone.

Though Paul is tak­ing cred­it for the jump in sup­port for the Free­dom Act, something else likely played a more sig­ni­fic­ant role: Mc­Con­nell re­leased his caucus to vote for the meas­ure. The de­fense hawk had been un­usu­ally ag­gress­ive in whip­ping against the House-passed bill un­til it be­came clear that there was no sup­port for his push of a “clean” short-term ex­ten­sion. When the meas­ure came up for an­oth­er vote to pro­ceed Sunday, it jumped from 47 to 77 “ayes,” and both Mc­Con­nell and Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn joined in the switch.

Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and oth­ers took to the floor to press for the bill dur­ing Paul’s 10-plus hour-talk-a-thon on the cham­ber floor last month. Paul’s “fear,” as he said Monday, is that the bill would still keep Amer­ic­ans’ metadata—the num­bers, time stamps, and dur­a­tion of a call but not its con­tents—by ask­ing phone com­pan­ies to hold that data.

“If you think bulk col­lec­tion is wrong, why do they need new au­thor­it­ies,” asked Paul dur­ing his “fili­buster.” “Why are we giv­ing them some new au­thor­it­ies?”

Paul said Monday that his po­s­i­tion is still mis­con­strued.

“I think there’s still some mis­un­der­stand­ing about what I want, be­cause I’m for re­search­ing the re­cords of ter­ror­ists,” he ad­ded. “I’m just not for hav­ing a gen­er­al­ized search of every­body in the Amer­ic­an pub­lic.”

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