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Rand Paul Says He Has Votes ‘Outside the Beltway’ on NSA Surveillance

Paul has made standing up for the Fourth Amendment a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Paul has made standing up for the Fourth Amendment a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

PHILADELPHIA — Standing on the lawn outside the landmark where the framers debated the Constitution, Sen. Rand Paul launched his newest Fourth Amendment campaign.  

“Here in front of Independence Hall, I call for the president to obey the law. The court said last week that it is illegal to collect all of your phone records, all the time, without a warrant with your name on it,” Paul said. “I call on the president today to immediately end the bulk collection of our phone records.”  

That, of course, isn’t going to happen. But it makes for theater nonetheless for Paul’s presidential campaign, which has limiting government as its cornerstone.  

“This week we will have a great and momentous debate about the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment is the right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment says that you and your papers are safe and secure from the government, unless they ask a judge, unless there is suspicion and probable cause that you committed a crime,” Paul said of the debate that looms over the National Security Agency’s powers.  

But, in response to a question at the outdoor news conference, Paul said he did not expect to have the votes to end the NSA surveillance powers provided under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which will expire on June 1 unless Congress acts.  

“We will do everything possible, including filibustering the Patriot Act to stop them. Now, people who watch the process realize … they can ultimately beat me if they have the votes,” said Paul. “They’ve got the votes inside the Beltway, but we have votes outside the Beltway. And we’ll have that fight.”  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has most recently called for a two-month extension of the current program.  

Paul isn’t a fan either of the overhaul measure overwhelmingly passed by the House, known as the USA Freedom Act, and championed in the Senate by Republican Mike Lee of Utah and Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. He expressed concern it could have the effect of negating pending litigation, citing the recent federal appellate ruling in New York.  

Paul said, in his view, the USA Freedom Act keeps a form of the program in place, though the telephone companies would be the ones holding the records. “My fear is that while people [who] want to reform this are for the Freedom Act, that the Freedom Act actually expands the Patriot Act,” he said.  

Paul’s first event in the City of Brotherly Love was across the street at the National Constitution Center moderated by local radio personality Dom Giordano. There, Paul discussed his new book, “Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America,” scheduled for release next week. There, Paul addressed a broad range of subject matter that’s become common for him on the campaign trail, including criminal justice and U.S. policy with respect to the threat from the terror group which calls itself the Islamic State or ISIS. After viewing the Bill of Rights, Paul pointedly outlined his objection to the provisions of the Patriot Act are up for debate before recess.  

“My complaint isn’t against spying,” Paul said. “My defense is of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment says you need to name a person.”  

For the Kentucky Republican, Monday’s events and the Senate debate set to follow this week represent an opportunity to separate himself from others in the GOP presidential field. Last November, he received some criticism for voting to block a version of the USA Freedom Act legislation, which counts among its supporters one of Paul’s conservative rivals for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz.  

“The USA Freedom Act ends the NSA’s unfettered data collection program once and for all, while at the same time preserving the government’s ability to obtain information to track down terrorists when it has sufficient justification and support for doing so,” the Texas Republican said earlier this month after the federal appeals court in New York ruled against the bulk collection provisions.  

By the time it happened, Paul’s announcement after the event at the National Constitution Center was not a surprise, since the campaign has attracted media from far and wide.  

“People are always asking me, ‘Are you going to filibuster this?’ or ‘Are you going to filibuster that?'” Paul said. He added that the question has been a favorite of reporters ever since he spent more than 13 hours talking on the Senate floor in March of 2013 to question the Obama administration’s use of drones.  

“They think that the debate was really about drones,” but Paul said that, like his stand against the NSA’s collection of phone-record data, it was really a case of defending the Bill of Rights, highlighting previous cases in American history where there’s been incarceration without trial, including the relocation and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  

McConnell over the weekend brushed off Paul’s threats of a filibuster, and warned Monday he was prepared to work into the weekend unless he gets cooperation to finish the fast-track trade bill this week, while signaling his intention to pass both the NSA and highway extensions.  

“I would advise against making any sort of travel arrangements until the path forward becomes clear,” McConnell said.  

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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