House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has a message for Senate Republicans: If they want to extend expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, they aren't going to do any better than the so-called USA Freedom Act.
The California Republican wouldn't say whether there was a contingency plan if the Senate doesn't heed that advice. "I think when you get 338 votes, we're meeting someone in the middle," McCarthy said of the bill he characterized as a compromise. "I think there's 338 to pass the USA Freedom Act and the Senate should look at that."
He went on to repeat iterations of that refrain a few more times over the course of his Monday afternoon pen-and-pad briefing with reporters, unwilling to offer a contingency plan if or when the Senate goes a different route.
The USA Freedom Act passed the House last week with an overwhelmingly bipartisan and veto-proof victory, 338-88, and mirrors a bipartisan companion bill introduced in the Senate. The legislative proposal would extend various programs put in practice after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that would expire from the most recent reauthorization at the end of May. The framework, which has the support of the Obama administration, also would make major changes to the government's existing surveillance programs.
But some critics, such as Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., say those changes go too far in curbing the National Security Agency's authorities. Burr has said he wants to pass a two-month extension of existing surveillance powers, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has expressed some reservations about the USA Freedom Act.
Other opponents of the bipartisan legislation argue it doesn't go far enough in eliminating National Security Agency programs that interfere with Americans' rights to privacy and other civil liberties. A vocal detractor is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a 2016 presidential candidate who has threatened to filibuster the bill should it come to the Senate floor.
On Monday night, McCarthy wasn't interested in speculating on the USA Freedom Act's chances of survival in the other chamber.
"I hear conflicting things on all sides so I don't know where there's consensus over there," he said. " And there's consensus here that I think takes in all those concerns that I'm hearing on the Senate side. I think that it would be a good place for them to end up."
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