The Kentucky senator told a New Hampshire paper he will intervene this month when Congress debates renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act, source of modern surveillance programs.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks during a town hall meeting at the Loins Club hall with area residents, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Londonderry, N.H. Paul is an outspoken critic of the Patriot Act, and one only two Republicans to vote against it’s renewal in 2011.
MINNEAPOLIS — An important deadline is looming for both supporters and detractors of America’s mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. With a vote on the Patriot Act reauthorization scheduled for next week, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul plans to block this post-9/11 legislation that provides legal justification for this indiscriminate invasion of privacy by U.S. government agencies.
Paul told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Monday that he will lead the opposition to the act: “We will be filibustering. We will be trying to stop it. We are not going to let them run over us.”
The Patriot Act expires on June 1, but Congress must vote before a scheduled break on May 22. In addition to a proposed filibuster, Paul also threatened to amend the bill to prevent continued violation of Constitutional rights.
Paul, a notoriously outspoken senator from Kentucky, is a supporter of the tea party movement and known for his opposition to U.S. surveillance programs. He was one of two Republicans to vote against renewal of the Patriot Act’s mass surveillance provisions in February 2011. Unlike many privacy advocates who oppose mass surveillance on the grounds that it violates the First and Fourth Amendments, Paul also considers the Patriot Act a violation of his Second Amendment rights.
Igor Bobic, writing for The Huffington Post on Monday, noted: “It’s unclear whether Paul plans to vote to block reauthorizing the surveillance law, or whether he intends to mount a traditional ‘talking’ filibuster that would eat up valuable time on the Senate floor.”
The Patriot Act and the mass surveillance programs it authorizes are controversial among members of Congress, but the division doesn’t fall along traditional party lines. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, another Kentucky Republican, wants to renew the Patriot Act unchanged, according to USA Today’s Erin Kelly. “He said the government’s power should not be weakened at a time when the threat from the Islamic State and other militant groups is growing,” Kelly wrote last week.
But the act is opposed by Paul and other tea party Republicans, who are joined in opposition by liberal Democrats. For example, sponsors of the recent USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end the widespread collection of telephone metadata, saw sponsorship from both “conservative Republican Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin to liberal Democratic Reps. John Conyers of Michigan.“
Another example of the split within the GOP came when Utah’s Republican Sen. Mike Lee faced off against McConnell over the Patriot Act.
“Nothing in this extension has ever, ever been found to be unconstitutional. And most of these authorities have never even been challenged in court,” McConnell was quoted as saying
While Lee agreed that the surveillance program had never been found illegal, he pointed out that the public only knows it exists because of Edward Snowden: “But listen to what he’s saying. … Until quite recently, the American people weren’t aware of this program. So it’s not exactly something that could be challenged right away anyway.”
Regardless of what Congress decides, the debate further illustrates the lasting effect of Snowden’s revelations on the nature of American politics.