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Rand Paul Facing Torrent of Fearmongering Over Holding Up Patriot Act Passage for One Day

Rand Paul is using the tools at his disposal to keep the debate going on extending three provisions the Patriot Act, by insisting on all post-cloture time and insisting on votes on his amendments. The provisions lapse on Friday, which means that Paul’s gambit could cause them to temporarily expire for new investigations. Check out the bias in this Hill article:

A combination of the Senate’s arcane rules and Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) insistence on voting on several controversial amendments might cause the Patriot Act to lapse at the end of the week.

The expiration of the law before the passage of an extension would create an upheaval in the law enforcement community, which relies on its authority to track suspected terrorists […]

if Paul insists on using all 30 hours of post-cloture debate he is entitled to under Senate rules, he could force the Patriot Act to lapse for a day.

Even if Paul waives the 30 hours of post-cloture debate, lawmakers will have to scramble to get the extension signed into law by Thursday because President Obama is in Europe. Officials will have to fly a copy of the Patriot Act extension overseas if they are to prevent a range of law-enforcement powers from expiring.

This would not create an “upheaval” in the law enforcement community. Investigations using the old rules in place at the time would be allowed to continue. It would only affect new investigations. And besides, these deeply intrusive provisions – roving wiretaps, unlimited access to personal records and “lone wolf” allowances of surveillance of individuals unconnected to terrorism – are used relatively sparingly, according to the FBI. The fearmongering over the expiration date is deeply dishonest.

Yet people like Harry Reid continue to do it:

The national security of the United States is at stake, and the junior Senator from Kentucky is complaining that he has not been able to offer amendments […]

It’s unfortunate because the inability to reach an agreement has serious consequences. At midnight tomorrow, the PATRIOT Act will expire. Unless the Senator from Kentucky stops standing in the way, our law enforcement will no longer be able to use some of the most critical tools they need to counter terrorists and combat terrorism.

If they cannot use these tools – tools that identify and track terrorist suspects – it could have dire consequences for our national security.

This is absurd. “The Patriot Act” will not expire; three provisions will. And they’re expire for a day at most, and only for new investigations. The national security of the United States is not at stake.

Apparently Paul had a chance to get a vote on six amendments, four of which he wrote, and he rejected it. I haven’t been following closely enough to know exactly what amendments were on the table; Reid claims that Paul wants an amendment to allow people (“not of average citizens, but of terrorists”) to cover up their gun purchases. And that’s certainly possible. If that’s what this is truly all about, Paul’s in the wrong.

But I do know that the leadership wanted to extend provisions that have been in place for ten years for another four, with little debate and no amendments. That was their initial plan. As Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), who voted against the Patriot Act in the House and who stood with paul today, said on the floor:

“This is not a Patriot Act. Patriots stand up for the Constitution. Patriots stand up for freedom and liberty that’s embodied in the constitution. And I think true patriots, when they’re public servants — public servants stand up and do what’s right even if it’s unpopular.”

We need a full debate and multiple amendments allowed on the floor. If there’s a few days of expiration in the process, that’s the fault of Senate managers who pushed the vote too close to the edge. And I’m not going to wet my pants about it.

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David Dayen

David Dayen