The Senate's leaders traded unusually harsh and personal words on the floor Tuesday afternoon, just before a clear majority rejected Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's arguments against an overhaul of lapsed Patriot Act surveillance authorities.
"As my good friend, the majority leader, frequently reminded me over the last few years, the majority leader always gets the last word," the Kentucky Republican said during the exchange. "And look, his fundamental complaint is he doesn't get to schedule the Senate anymore and he wanted to kill the president's trade bill, and so he didn't like the fact that we moved to the trade bill early enough before the opposition to it might become more severe."
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has chafed this year at McConnell bragging about having a more open Senate, and has repeatedly clashed with his scheduling decisions.
He had long said the Senate should have moved to address the Patriot Act, including the bulk collection of telephone records, before bringing a renewal of Trade Promotion Authority backed by President Barack Obama to the floor. But, McConnell opted to go to the trade measure first, and the ensuing events, including a filibuster led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and scheduling decisions by McConnell, led to the short-term lapse to the trio of surveillance authorities in question. McConnell's comments about Reid came just after the Nevada Democrat rebutted a lengthy McConnell speech about ways in which the Obama administration had made Americans less safe and more at risk to threats like ISIS.
"The majority leader, he's concerned, as he should be, about why the country's less secure, especially in the last couple of weeks. He should look in the mirror. We have a situation where he's trying to divert attention from what has gone on here. It was as if there had been a big neon sign flashed saying 'you can't do highway reauthorization, you can't do FISA reauthorization and you can't do trade in four or five days,'" Reid said. "To do this right, you should have spent some time on FISA, and because of the mad rush to do trade, that didn't happen."
"Every day that goes by, with the FISA bill not being reauthorized, is a bad day for our country. It makes us less safe, and to try to divert attention as he's tried to do here in the last few minutes, blaming the Obama administration for stopping torture, the detention centers, pulling troops out of Iraq," he said. "I say my friend's looking in the wrong direction."
McConnell delivered a detailed presentation of what he viewed as failures in the Obama administration's foreign policy, starting with efforts to close the detention facility at Guantamano Bay, Cuba.
"The bookends to the president's policies were the executive orders signed his first week in office which included the declaration that Guantanamo would be closed within a year, without any plan for what to do with its detainees, and the executive orders that ended the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation programs.
"Some of those detainees are now in Qatar preparing to rejoin the Taliban, some are in Uruguay camped out in a park across from the American Embassy, and regrettably some are back on the battlefield in Yemen, Afghanistan and in Syria," McConnell said. "And last year the president announced that all of our combat forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of his term of office — whether or not the Taliban were successful in capturing parts of Afghanistan, whether or not Al Qaeda senior leadership had found a more permissive environment in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and whether or not Al Qaeda has been completely driven from Afghanistan."
"I will repeat: The president has been a reluctant commander-in-chief. And between those two bookends, much has occurred that has undermined our national security," said McConnell.
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