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Obama Wants USA Freedom Act by Midnight Sunday

A senior administration official said Congress is playing 'Russian roulette' if they refuse to extend the Patriot Act. Rand Paul stands in Obama's way. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A senior administration official said Congress is playing 'Russian roulette' if they refuse to extend the Patriot Act. Rand Paul stands in Obama's way. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama reupped his push Tuesday for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act by 12 a.m. Monday to avoid the Patriot Act’s surveillance authorities from going dark. There’s just one problem with that. Doing so will almost certainly require the unanimous consent of all 100 senators.  

The Senate is slated to return Sunday in a last-ditch bid to extend the Patriot Act after the May 22 meltdown led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has made his bid to kill the Patriot Act a signature issue for his presidential campaign.  

Under Senate rules, there doesn’t appear to be a way around Paul’s objections — or those of other senators, including Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico — without their consent.  

That means either cutting a deal with Paul guaranteeing him simple majority votes on his surveillance-limiting amendments — something leaders refused to do in the early hours of Saturday morning — or letting the authorities expire.  

Congress could revive the authorities, but it would take days, if not a week or more, to go through the procedural hoops required in the face of persistent objections from Paul and company.  

In his latest fundraising message, Paul again made clear he had no intention of relenting.  

“Five days,” Paul wrote in a Tuesday message to supporters. “That’s how long you and I have until the U.S. Senate meets in a rare Sunday session on May 31st where surveillance state apologists will do everything they can to RAM through an extension of the so-called ‘PATRIOT Act’s’ ILLEGAL and unconstitutional domestic spying programs.”  

“I’m not backing down. I’m not going to compromise. I’m going to stand and fight until the very last moment — regardless of the smears and attacks I face,” Paul wrote in the email.  

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest didn’t go into detail on the procedural issues at play, but he did put to bed the notion that Obama could issue an executive order continuing the programs, including the bulk collection of American phone metadata.  

“If the Senate doesn’t act, then there is no way to prevent those authorities from expiring,” Earnest said. “And again, given that Senator McConnell has acknowledged that we’re operating in a high-threat period, he, as well as anyone, understands the kind of risk that’s associated with the Senate failing to do their job.”  

Obama himself said the authorities are “necessary to keep us safe” in remarks at the White House.

“I strongly urge the Senate to work through this recess and make sure that they identify a way to get this done.

“Keep in mind that the most controversial provision in there, which had to do with the gathering of telephone exchanges in a single government database — that has been reformed in the USA Freedom Act. But you have a whole range of authorities that are also embodied in the Patriot Act that are non-controversial, that everybody agrees are necessary to keep us safe and secure.  Those also are at risk of lapsing.

“So this needs to get done.  And I would urge folks to just work through whatever issues can still exist, make sure we don’t have, on midnight Sunday night, this task still undone, because it’s necessary to keep the American people safe and secure.”


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