Rand Paul Stages Filibuster Against Surveillance Tactics, But His 10½-Hour Effort Failed To Block The Patriot Act

If there’s one thing Rand Paul is capable of, it’s a mind-numbingly long filibuster. In 2013, the Kentucky senator set records with a 13-hour filibuster against drones — the longest in recent Senate memory. Now he’s done it again. On Wednesday, Rand Paul staged a filibuster against mass surveillance. His marathon effort, all 10 hours and 30 minutes of it, was a bid to halt the National Security Agency’s current surveillance tactics, including the controversial surveillance of Americans’ phone records, and to block an extension of the Patriot Act.

But Paul's speech, which began at 1:18 pm and ended at 11:49 pm, has not significantly affected the Senate’s schedule or the progress of the Patriot Act extension, according to The Guardian. The Senate will break on June 1, the same day that the key provisions of the Patriot Act will expire. The conclusion of his harangue just before midnight means that lawmakers have several more days in which to renew the law before it lapses. NPR reported that the most Paul’s speech will have achieved is to possibly delay the Act’s extension. The Senate schedule looks set to proceed as normal, with trade legislation, a highway-funding bill and the Patriot Act issue all on the agenda for the coming two days.

This fact didn’t seem to throw Paul off his stride, as he enthusiastically attacked the NSA’s surveillance tactics. “I don't think we're any safer looking at every American's records,” he said. Laying down the gauntlet at the start of his filibuster, he proclaimed:

There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer… That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.

This week, the Senate is supposed to vote on a bill (known as the USA Freedom Act and already passed by the House), which would stop the government from directly collecting and storing phone records. However, the bill would allow the government to obtain that data from phone companies if a court order is procured. Paul opposes both this particular bill, and any plan that would allow the U.S. government to continue its surveillance of America’s phone records.

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Meanwhile, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has expressed a desire to pass a two-month extension for the Patriot Act as it currently stands, minus the USA Freedom Act amendment. Despite Paul’s concern over the USA Freedom Act, he has made clear that he’d rather discuss that option than extend the Patriot Act unaltered. Much of his speech Wednesday was dedicated to examining the way that “fear and complacency” was the motivation for the ongoing mass surveillance.

During his speech, Paul insisted that the Patriot Act “isn't about the vast majority of good people who work in government. It’s about preventing the bad apple — it's about preventing the one bad person that might get into government and decide to abuse the rights of individuals.” The Guardian reported that Paul’s self-proclaimed filibuster (because, yes, there’s some debate over whether that’s the right term given that the legislation in question wasn’t up for a vote at the time he was on the floor) suggests that any Republican effort to approve the Patriot Act extension clean is likely to fail.

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The Kentucky senator wasn’t standing alone on this issue. Ten other senators joined him over the course of his vocal marathon: three Republicans (including Ted Cruz) and seven Democrats (such as Oregon senator Ron Wyden). Cruz, one of Paul’s rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, commended his colleague. “His is a voice that this body needs to listen to,” Cruz said. “If defenders of the Patriot Act are so confident ... they should be prepared to debate the senator from Kentucky on the merits.”

Cruz is one of the co-sponsors of the USA Freedom Act, but made clear that he encouraged debate on the issue. “A clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act ain’t passing this body and certainly ain’t passing the House,” he said.

A campaign email to supporters saw Paul promise, “I will not rest. I will not back down. I will not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand.” Yet, by the time he made his way off the floor on Wednesday, he admitted he was spent. He told reporters on Capital Hill he was “tired, voice is worn out, ready to go home.” But he said, simply, that he had “accomplished something,” with his lengthy effort, and acknowledged the bipartisan support for his effort.

“I don’t think you had much choice, but thank you for staying and not throwing things,” he joked to Senate floor staffers as he bowed out.

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