In single-handedly blocking reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act, Sen. Rand Paul has finally done what many expected when the Kentucky Republican arrived in Congress earlier this year — he's holding the Senate hostage.
And many of his colleagues aren't happy about it.
Senate Republicans are publicly sympathetic with Paul's decision to use parliamentary levers to stretch debate on the bipartisan anti-terrorism legislation beyond its expiration tonight, saying they appreciate the principled stance he has taken and the substantive case he often makes to defend his positions.
But privately, Republicans complain that Paul's style has worn thin. On the PATRIOT Act, the freshman Senator has little support in either party.
Republicans indicated Wednesday that their Kentucky colleague's near-isolation on the homeland security issue is emblematic of Paul's typical failure to cultivate the support of his Conference and his penchant for trying to hog the spotlight.
"They'd come to his defense more vocally if he picked his spots more judiciously than demanding to be front and center in every debate," said a Republican aide, who was careful to say that people understand that Paul is not just "grandstanding."
In an interview Wednesday, Paul was unapologetic about his opposition to reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act in its current form as well as his vocal opposition to the House Republican budget authored by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) and his party's messaging strategy.
Paul, who has complained that Ryan's budget still adds too much to the deficit, said House GOP leaders erred in their public relations strategy by not involving conservative groups from the beginning to combat a predictable Democratic attack on the budget's controversial Medicare provisions. Paul's competing budget plan was overwhelmingly rejected in a Wednesday evening floor vote.
Paul's refusal to bend on the PATRIOT Act had threatened to force a vote at 1 a.m. today, a move that was unlikely to endear the Senator to his colleagues. However, Senate leaders announced Wednesday night that the vote would be held at 10 a.m. today instead.
Paul, who blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for the impasse, acknowledged that he did not alert his Republican colleagues or GOP leaders in advance about his plans to slow down passage of the PATRIOT Act. But he said that they shouldn't be surprised.
"I think they knew about this when I ran in the Republican primary back in 2009-2010," said Paul, a libertarian thinker with tea party roots. "I try to work with people. Sen. Reid promised me a week's debate and amendments. I'm not up here just to be an obstructionist. But I think agreements should be kept. They seem to pride themselves on gentleman's agreements up here. This is a clear breach of an agreement."
The disagreement between Reid and Paul exploded on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. The Majority Leader accused Paul of blatantly misrepresenting their deal, saying the Kentucky Republican had been offered a deal to vote on his amendments, just not every one of them. Paul charged Reid with shirking a public agreement to allow votes on his amendments in order to protect Democrats from a gun-records-related proposal.
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