A Blow to the NSA, and To Harmony Within the Kentucky GOP

A pretty simple analysis of the power dynamics over the issue involved might have persuaded the Republican leader of the Senate that he wasn’t going to be able to secure a simple extension of the Patriot Act. Any congressional debate on which House conservatives and the Obama administration–not to mention virtually all other Democrats–is going to go their way, particularly when a certain senator is willing to hold a filibuster.

But for some reason Mitch McConnell thought he could out-maneuver everyone else. And he lost, as reported by the Guardian‘s Dan Roberts, Ben Jacobs and Spencer Ackerman:

Sweeping US surveillance powers, enjoyed by the National Security Agency since the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, shut down at midnight after a dramatic Senate showdown in which even the NSA’s biggest supporters conceded that substantial reforms were inevitable….

The expired provisions, subject to a “sunset” clause from the beginning of June onwards, are likely to be replaced later this week with new legislation – the USA Freedom Act – that permanently bans the NSA from collecting telephone records in bulk and introduces new transparency rules for other surveillance activities. The USA Freedom Act, once passed, will be the first rollback of NSA surveillance since the seminal 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But until then, in addition to the expiration of the NSA’s phone records collection, the FBI is prevented from using powers granted under the Patriot Act, including the pursuit of so-called “business records” relating to internet use, hotel and rental car records and credit card statements.

Both developments represent a remarkable capitulation for the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who had initially sought to simply extend the Patriot Act provisions, despite overwhelming support in the House of Representatives for the USA Freedom Act.

And once again, McConnell has been humiliated by his junior colleague from Kentucky, Rand Paul. It should be a familiar feeling for ol’ Mitch, since Paul got to the Senate in the first place by trouncing McConnell’s hand-picked candidate to succeed Jim Bunning. They subsequently patched things up via Paul’s strategic decision to back McConnell’s reelection in 2014 over a Tea Partyish challenger. But you have to figure bad blood has now returned, and if McConnell wants revenge, he has as his instruments the 17 other Republicans running against Paul for president.

Rand Paul overall world-view repels me sufficiently that my impulses to sympathize with the wiggy guy don’t last long. But he sure has accumulated an interesting set of enemies.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.