With key provisions of the Patriot Act now expired and the Senate's plans to reboot them unclear, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted Monday morning he has "a real concern in the safety of the country right now."
But the California Republican, in a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters, suggested he only saw one good path forward for the Senate to take in the days ahead: pass the House-passed USA Freedom Act. "My only advice is just to get the Freedom Act done," McCarthy said of the legislation that won an overwhelmingly bipartisan victory in the House last month. Proponents argue the bill strikes a good balance between curbing infringements on civil liberties — it ends the bulk phone data collection program — and maintaining portions of the Patriot Act that are needed to protect the homeland.
Opposition from a number of GOP senators has stalled progress on the measure, however, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in particular has gotten 2016 presidential campaign mileage out of blocking any extension of National Security Agency surveillance powers in the lead-up to their expiration in the early morning hours of June 1.
As the Senate moves slowly to move the USA Freedom Act through the pipeline, there are possibilities it could be amended or bump up against another major obstacle. McCarthy said he wasn't in the business of guessing what would happen.
"I don't know what they can and can't do over there right now," he said. "I don't know what they have the votes for over there."
McCarthy also wouldn't say whether the House would be willing to hold another vote on extending lapsed Patriot Act provisions, whether it's an amended version of the Freedom Act or a different measure entirely.
As for whether he thought the Republican Congress was to blame for a shutdown of crucial Patriot Act programs, McCarthy scoffed. He dismissed criticism that's been lodged against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for miscalculating the chamber floor schedule, instead putting the onus on Senate Democrats for taking too much time in the lead-up to eventual passage of Trade Promotion Authority legislation.
He wouldn't, however, venture to offer insights on Paul's actions and how they might play on the stump. "I think people standing up for what they believe in, people respect that, one side or the other," McCarthy said.
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