A Tangled Surveillance, Trade-Pact Mess on Capitol Hill

Talking for more than ten hours on the Senate floor from Wednesday afternoon to nearly midnight, libertarian Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) expressed his opposition to a two-month extension of the controversial Patriot Act but ultimately failed to fulfill his vow to do “everything possible” to kill legislation being pushed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell which—with time remaining on the legislative clock—still has the opportunity to pass.

As the Guardian reports:

As the Associated Press and others noted, Sen. Paul’s delaying tactics are called a “talking filibuster” not an official one, because the bill before the Senate dealt with trade authority and was not the topic of his speech, which covered surveillance and the various proposals on that subject. “Still,” reports AP, “by never sitting or yielding the floor, Paul kept senators from talking on other topics.”

Democrats who spoke with The Hill said Paul’s “monopolization of the floor prevented colleagues from proposing agreements for amending the trade package, raising concerns that Democrats, feeling shut out, might be provoked to vote against ending debate on the legislation Thursday.”

With these various and highly-contentious issues still in front of the Senate—and with the House of Representatives hoping to adjourn for its Memorial Day break on Thursday—the likelihood of passing these measures is not nearly assured.

From Politico:

And according to The Hill:

Progressives have made resoundingly clear their opposition to both an extension of the Patriot Act and the bill pushing for Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track. Though they hold no quarter for the Sen. Paul’s broader political positions, his marathon speech has been helpful in making Fast Track approval or a Patriot Act extension that much harder, at least this session. And because key portions of the Patriot Act will expire on June 1, if a full extension of the law is not passed and the Senate cannot find enough votes to approve the USA Freedom Act offered by the House, those programs—including the bulk collection of American telephone data—will automatically come to an end next week.

As Common Dreams reported on Wednesday, a coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups has organized a series of rallies nationwide calling on senators to simply do nothing on the current surveillance bills—thereby letting the most noxious provisions “sunset” as scheduled. In a call to action, they wrote:

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