Updated May 31 3:49 p.m. | Rand Paul's presidential campaign wants to portray his fight to block any Patriot Act extension as a faceoff against President Barack Obama. But the Kentucky senator is waging an increasingly lonely battle.
Some of his usual tea party allies are abandoning him. House Republican leaders are not pleased with his antics . And then there's Paul's feud with the senior senator from Kentucky and the most prominent Republican to endorse his presidential campaign, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Put it this way — there aren't many times that Obama, Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, Speaker John A. Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid all agree on something.
But this weekend, at least, they are singing off the same song sheet: Rand Paul is wrong.
McCarthy put out a sharply worded statement Saturday urging the Senate to clear the USA Freedom Act, which passed the House with 338 votes and has Obama's strong support.
"Now is not the time to be playing games with our national security," the California Republican said.
That's a message that could be interpreted as hitting both Paul and McConnell, who is almost equally isolated. He has been pushing for an extension of Patriot Act authorities and voted to filibuster the USA Freedom Act.
Boehner followed up Sunday with another missive aimed squarely at Paul:
"Al Qaeda, ISIL and other terrorists around the globe continue to plot attacks on America and our allies. Anyone who is satisfied with letting this critical intelligence capability go dark isn't taking the terrorist threat seriously," Boehner said.
Lee, a usual Paul ally, co-authored the Senate version of the USA Freedom Act, appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday and said his side has more than the 60 votes they need to end a filibuster . The Utah Republican made an appeal to the Senate — and Paul — to send the bill to Obama's desk before midnight.
Cruz, one of Paul's rivals for the Republican nomination, is also an early co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, which would dismantle the bulk collection of phone records over a six-month period and replace that with expedited queries of data held by private telecom companies. The Texas Republican appeared on the Senate floor late into Paul's filibuster-esque speech before the Memorial Day recess to praise his opponent's efforts even as he noted that they disagree on the issue.
Cruz, like Obama, believes the USA Freedom Act would protect civil liberties by ending the bulk collection of phone records by the government. Paul calls the bill a "phony" overhaul that could actually expand surveillance by expediting queries of information held by telecom companies.
The USA Freedom Act also extends other Patriot Act surveillance authorities that are less controversial than the bulk data program: individualized collection of business and other records under Section 215, roving wiretaps targeting suspected terrorists using "burner" phones, and the never-used "lone-wolf" provision.
The Obama administration calls Paul's intention to force the expiration of the Patriot Act authorities "playing national security Russian roulette," and something that would throw terror investigations into legal limbo.
Even the two Democrats who joined Paul in blocking even short-term extensions of the Patriot Act McConnell proposed, Senate Intelligence Committee members Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, back the USA Freedom Act.
If McConnell moves to reconsider the USA Freedom Act Sunday evening and it gets the requisite 60 votes to advance, Paul could block final passage all by himself until at least 2 a.m. Tuesday under Senate rules.
So far at least, he's vowing maximum obstruction .
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, pinned the blame for any Patriot Act expiration squarely on McConnell.
"If Senator McConnell cannot convince Senator Paul, his fellow Kentuckian whom he endorsed for President, to back off his filibuster threat then Senator McConnell will have no one but himself to blame for allowing crucial national security tools to expire on his watch," Jentleson said.
"Senator Paul is only in a position to force the Patriot Act to expire because of Senator McConnell's reckless, irresponsible tactics and inability to communicate with his fellow Republicans. Senator McConnell ignored advice from Senator Reid and others who urged him to act on key provisions of the Patriot Act, which had a pressing deadline, before moving to trade, which did not."
In the meantime, Paul also hopes to use the confrontation to swell his campaign coffers.
On Friday, he announced "an emergency 48 hour 'NSA Spying Showdown' Money Bomb" in a fundraising email — insisting he wasn't engaged in a "campaign stunt."
It's one of many similar emails he's sent this week.
It's not clear yet how much of a bonanza Paul is reaping. But he certainly doesn't seem to mind getting mocked by the "Eye Roll Caucus " and believes he has the votes "outside the Beltway " on the issue.
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