Rand Paul may be the most unpopular person in the United States Senate at the moment, the way his fellow senators are talking.
As the marathon session stretched into Saturday morning, and senators realized they still lacked a solution to address the expiring language of the Patriot Act used to allow the NSA’s bulk collection of call data, some lawmakers pointed squarely at the Kentucky Republican—the one who’s eyeing the White House, not the one who is majority leader.
“There’s a new breed in the Senate and we have seen the manifestation of it, of people who are willing to, one or two or three, are willing to stand up against the will of the majority, said Sen. John McCain. “Some time ago, the Senate could sit down and try and work things out.”
McCain, no stranger to presidential politics himself, noted the success Paul is having with his efforts.
“I’m sure it’s a great revenue raiser,” McCain said. “I’m serious. The emails are out now, and they were out in the 11-hour performance a couple days ago,” he added, referring Wednesday afternoon’s “filibuster.”
Before the final votes, Republican Sen. Dean Heller, a cosponsor of the USA Freedom Act, admitted that Paul is stepping on some nerves.
“It’s causing some frustration for some members,” Heller told reporters. “Sen. Paul is going to do what Sen. Paul wants to do, and everyone lets him do it. Sometimes it looks more like presidential politics than anything else.
“He has a position, he has a point,” he added. “We don’t disagree with him, but there are probably other ways he could be effective, or more effective.”
Majority Whip John Cornyn suggested the weeklong recess would help calm things down. “My hope is in the meantime, in this following week, after everybody gets a good night’s sleep and is thinking clearly we can figure out a way forward on this,” Cornyn said.
But he also pointed a finger at Paul.
“Sen. Paul is asking for something that nobody will agree to, but they were willing to give him votes on the amendments.”
And Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill wasn’t happy, either, tweeting: “Hey #StandwithRand.He’s not filibustering but using Senate rules to grandstand. Frustrating for those of us who actually want to reform NSA.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime foe of Paul on national security issues, could be seen on the floor rolling his eyes at one point as Paul spoke.
Not everyone in the chamber into the wee hours of the morning was aligned against Paul. Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ron Wyden joined him in objecting to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts to move a short-term extension of the Patriot Act. And a pair of sympathetic House members, Reps. Thomas Massie and Justin Amash, were on the floor to lend moral support.
Paul’s fellow White House contender, Sen. Ted Cruz, offered some qualified praise for his actions.
“I’m a big fan of Sen. Paul,” Cruz said. “I do not agree with him on this particular issue. I think it is important that we both protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and also maintain the law-enforcement/national security tools needed to prevent acts of terrorism. I respect his passion for his principles and certainly will stand to defend his rights to seek amendments.”
For his part, Paul was fine with how the entire session played out.
“Patriot Act filibuster successful and ongoing,” he tweeted Saturday morning. “Bulk phone-record collection set to expire.”