The Future of the Patriot Act Depends on the Votes of These 10 Senators

If the USA Freedom Act comes to another vote, these are the senators to watch.

U.S. Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY) (L) speaks to members of the media as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) looks on after the weekly Republican Policy Luncheon March 24, 2015 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.  
National Journal
May 26, 2015, 4 p.m.

Ten sen­at­ors have the fu­ture of the Pat­ri­ot Act in their hands.

They will be the ones who can make or break any deal on wheth­er or not to reau­thor­ize or re­form the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s bulk spy­ing pro­grams — or to con­tin­ue down a path to let­ting the Pat­ri­ot Act Sec­tion 215 lan­guage lapse al­to­geth­er.

In the­ory, the Sen­ate is out un­til Sunday af­ter­noon, but staffers will be burn­ing up the phone lines un­til then — and these are the sen­at­ors who mat­ter the most. And if re­formers want to bol­ster their cause, they will need to win over three of them to get the USA Free­dom Act from 57 votes to a fili­buster-proof 60.

Worth not­ing is that sev­en of the 10 sen­at­ors be­low are up for reelec­tion in 2016 — some in close races — which could nudge the Re­pub­lic­ans left on the is­sue.

(Votes in or­ange ad­vanced the Pat­ri­ot Act. Votes in purple op­posed or sought to re­form it. Ques­tion marks mean a sen­at­or was in of­fice but didn’t vote.)

Rand Paul


Rand Paul con­tin­ues to be one of the most in­triguing — and dis­rupt­ive — play­ers in the fight over the NSA’s sur­veil­lance pro­grams. The Ken­tucky Re­pub­lic­an’s 10-and-a-half-hour “fili­buster” got him closer to his goal of push­ing pro­vi­sions of the Pat­ri­ot Act to­ward ex­pir­a­tion, and he, along with Demo­crat­ic Sens. Ron Wyden and Mar­tin Hein­rich, stood and ob­jec­ted to Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s pro­pos­als for short­er and short­er-term ex­ten­sions of the pro­vi­sions on Sat­urday morn­ing.

But while Wyden and Hein­rich sup­port the Free­dom Act as worth­while re­form, Paul says it doesn’t go far enough — and he voted against it. Paul has re­peatedly asked to add sev­er­al amend­ments to the USA Free­dom Act, but he has not said wheth­er he would vote for the re­form pack­age if they were al­lowed con­sid­er­a­tion.

Dur­ing his ob­jec­tion to Mc­Con­nell’s short-term pushes, Paul said he had asked lead­er­ship for a com­prom­ise to al­low a simple ma­jor­ity vote on just two of his amend­ments, which would nor­mally need to clear a 60-vote hurdle. But lead­er­ship re­fused that re­quest, and Paul re­spon­ded by re­fus­ing to al­low any short-term ex­ten­sion to go for­ward.

It is not clear what two amend­ments Paul wants to put to a vote, and his of­fice did not re­spond to mul­tiple re­quests for cla­ri­fic­a­tion. If his amend­ments do earn a vote, Paul may al­low the Free­dom Act to go for­ward for an­oth­er vote — even if he again votes against it.

An­gus King


An­gus King of Maine, an in­de­pend­ent who caucuses with the Demo­crats, was the only non-Re­pub­lic­an to vote against the Free­dom Act. His break­ing rank was par­tic­u­larly not­able giv­en his vote for an earli­er, wider-reach­ing ver­sion of the Free­dom Act last year. He also voted down Mc­Con­nell’s two-month ex­ten­sion.

King told Na­tion­al Journ­al he had con­cerns that the Free­dom Act did not pos­sess a data-re­ten­tion man­date, which is widely viewed as a “pois­on pill” for tech com­pan­ies and pri­vacy ad­voc­ates. Such a man­date is part of the “com­prom­ise” bill be­ing pushed now by Demo­crat­ic Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein on which King is a co­spon­sor. But Fein­stein voted for the Free­dom Act, leav­ing open the pos­sib­il­ity that she could ca­jole King to sup­port the meas­ure if it comes up for an­oth­er vote.

Mi­chael En­zi


Mi­chael En­zi of Wyom­ing was the only sen­at­or who was ab­sent dur­ing the votes last week on the Free­dom Act and the short-term ex­ten­sion. His name was on a last-minute short list of “tar­gets” be­ing cir­cu­lated among pro-re­form groups the day lead­ing up to the vote, and for good reas­on: En­zi, like many of his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans who voted for the Free­dom Act, hails from a more liber­tari­an-lean­ing West­ern state and has cri­ti­cized NSA spy­ing in the past.

En­zi’s of­fice late Tues­day provided a state­ment from the sen­at­or in­dic­at­ing he be­lieves sur­veil­lance re­form is ne­ces­sary — but that the Free­dom Act might not be the best vehicle for it.

“The NSA needs to fo­cus on sus­pec­ted ter­ror­ists,” the state­ment read. “If it wants more in­form­a­tion on someone, it should get a war­rant from an in­de­pend­ent judge, not one that it signs it­self. War­rants should be tar­geted at in­form­a­tion rel­ev­ant to an in­vest­ig­a­tion.”

En­zi said he ap­pre­ci­ated his col­leagues’ ef­forts on craft­ing le­gis­la­tion to end bulk data col­lec­tion and nar­row what the NSA can search, but sug­ges­ted more work needs to be done.

“I’m afraid, though, that these re­forms still weigh too heav­ily in fa­vor of the gov­ern­ment rather than in­di­vidu­als,” En­zi said. “To be safe, we need to lean on the Con­sti­tu­tion be­cause if we tear down our ba­sic rights to be safe, we’ll lose what so many have fought for.”

Mark Kirk


Mark Kirk switched his vote from a “yes” to a “no” Sat­urday morn­ing, sur­pris­ing many ob­serv­ers who thought the Illinois Re­pub­lic­an had come around to the re­form bill. Free­dom Act sup­port­ers said they be­lieve Kirk may still be in play. Kirk, who will likely face a tough chal­lenge in 2016 against Rep. Tammy Duck­worth, has played up his cent­rist cre­den­tials to gain fa­vor in his blue home state.

Bill Cas­sidy


Bill Cas­sidy of Louisi­ana was a top tar­get of pro-re­form groups, but his “no” vote on the Free­dom Act all but sealed the re­form meas­ure’s fate. The fresh­man Re­pub­lic­an’s op­pos­i­tion was es­pe­cially dev­ast­at­ing to the bill’s back­ers, as he had voted for an earli­er ver­sion of the Free­dom Act last year when he was a mem­ber of the House. Re­formers hope they might still be able to con­vince Cas­sidy, who was once a mem­ber of the House Tea Party Caucus, to help the Free­dom Act get to 60 if it gets an­oth­er vote.

Kelly Ayotte


Kelly Ayotte, a New Hamp­shire Re­pub­lic­an, was among a bi­par­tis­an group of about a half-dozen sen­at­ors to at­tend a meet­ing in the White House Situ­ation Room earli­er in the week to dis­cuss the Pat­ri­ot Act stan­doff. But des­pite the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s out­reach, Ayotte voted against the Free­dom Act. Re­formers con­tin­ue to hope Ayotte’s vote is mal­le­able, however, es­pe­cially giv­en that she hails from the “Live Free or Die” state. Ayotte could be in for a tough elec­tion in 2016 if pop­u­lar New Hamp­shire Gov. Mag­gie Has­san de­cides to run.

Jerry Mor­an and Mike Crapo


Re­pub­lic­an Sens. Jerry Mor­an of Kan­sas and Mike Crapo of Idaho voted no on both the USA Free­dom Act and Mc­Con­nell’s pro­posed two-month ex­ten­sion. This puts them in rare com­pany with Sen. Paul, who says he op­poses any ex­ten­sion of the Pat­ri­ot Act pro­vi­sions, Sen. King, who wants re­form but be­lieves the Free­dom Act needs a data-re­ten­tion man­date to have any teeth, and Mc­Con­nell, who switched his vote on the two-month ex­ten­sion from “yes” to “no” for pro­ced­ur­al reas­ons.

It is not clear what Mor­an’s and Crapo’s motives are for op­pos­ing both op­tions — and neither sen­at­or’s of­fice re­spon­ded to re­quests for com­ment. Both sen­at­ors have not been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal on sur­veil­lance is­sues either, leav­ing it un­clear if they, like Paul, be­lieve the Free­dom Act needs to be bolstered, or if they fear that it could un­der­mine na­tion­al se­cur­ity.

Pat Toomey


Pat Toomey, who also ap­peared on the re­form act­iv­ists’ tar­get list, re­fused to say which way he was lean­ing pri­or to the double-bar­rel votes on the Free­dom Act and the short-term ex­ten­sion. The Pennsylvania Re­pub­lic­an ul­ti­mately voted against the Free­dom Act’s re­forms, and for Mc­Con­nell’s two-month ex­ten­sion of the Pat­ri­ot Act. Come 2016, Toomey will likely be up against former Rep. Joe Ses­tak, whom he nar­rowly de­feated in 2010.

John Booz­man


John Booz­man, a Re­pub­lic­an from Arkan­sas, would not say where he was lean­ing on the Free­dom Act be­fore the vote. On Fri­day, he voted against the NSA re­form bill, and for the pro­posed two-month ex­ten­sion of the Pat­ri­ot Act. Still, many pro-re­form ad­voc­ates con­tin­ue to see Booz­man as a po­ten­tial swing vote.

This art­icle has been up­dated with de­tails about sen­at­ors’ 2016 elec­tion chal­lenges.

Andrew McGill contributed to this article.
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