It looks like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is not only holding up the extension of controversial provisions of the Patriot Act that expire at midnight on Friday morning; he's also ruining Memorial Day vacation plans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attacked Paul on the Senate floor this afternoon, saying if Paul thinks this is a “badge of courage” to hold up the Patriot Act vote, “that’s a mistake” and “the clock is ticking. The ball is in his court”
Paul answered Reid on the floor. "I'm here to discuss and debate the constitutionality of the Patriot Act... Can we not have a debate on a higher plane? A debate over whether or not there should be some constitutional protections, some constitutional procedure?" Paul wants to introduce and debate multiple amendments including one that would exempt certain firearm records from being obtained using the authority provided in the Patriot Act.
The Senate back-and-forth that has been taking place on this for the last few days caused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to announce a change in the House schedule. He took to the House floor to break the news to his 431 colleagues that since the Senate may not be able to vote on the bill until early Friday morning, members would need to stick around and get the bill passed before leaving town.
Currently, it looks like the Senate will file cloture on the extension tomorrow morning, which would trigger the need for 30 hours of debate. On non-controversial bills, the 30 hours is often waived, but Paul seems to be sticking to his guns, insisting on the full 30 hours of debate. So, as of now, the House wouldn't be able to get started on passing the bill until some time Friday morning.
The three controversial provisions that are set to sunset Friday include the government's authorization for roving electronic surveillance, the ability to obtain orders from a special court for "any tangible thing" related to terrorism, and surveillance orders for "lone wolf" terrorists who are not formally connected with a terrorist organization.
If things continue on the current path, those three provisions would sunset, though probably for no more than a day. According to Justice Department contacts, this situation is less than desirable. It would force some of the current surveillance to cease until the president could sign the extension.
Rep. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he worried about not having these tools in place, even briefly, if the country were attacked. "I think it's so important that we don't go through Memorial Day weekend without the resources and the tools to be able to deal with that provision of the law," the congressman said.
And Reid said, “The inability to reach an agreement has serious consequences. At midnight tomorrow, the Patriot Act will expire. Unless the senator from Kentucky stops standing in the way, our law enforcement will no longer be able to use some of the most critical tools they need to counter terrorists and combat terrorism. If they cannot use these tools –- tools that identify and track terrorist suspects –- it could have dire consequences for our national security.”
Another issue hampering the extension is that President Obama has to physically sign the bill. Once it gets through both chambers, it either has to be flown to the president in Europe or be waiting for him when he gets back to the U.S.