"Fortunately, I'm not the one that's responsible for counting the votes," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday when asked about Congress possibly moving a shorter-term extension of expiring Patriot Act surveillance powers.
Earnest is indeed fortunate on this one, because the people involved in the debate on Capitol Hill seem to have no idea what the endgame looks like with House members already having left town for Memorial Day recess, and the Senate's supposed to start in just days.
Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., has been backing a two-month extension of all of the surveillance powers under the Patriot Act that are set to lapse by June 1, including the bulk collection of telephone records.
He said after a Republican lunch Thursday that he anticipated neither the two-month patch nor the House-passed USA Freedom Act, a broad overhaul of the National Security Agency's programs that would end the government's bulk collection, are likely to get the 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles to even being debated on the Senate floor.
Earnest reiterated the White House view that the Senate should clear the USA Feedom Act and said it would be "irresponsible" to let the Patriot Act authorities expire, even for a few days.
Burr and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, both signaled a hope that there would be a shorter-term extension of existing authorities to allow time for a broader debate when the Senate returns in June, if both proposals are turned back in votes that, under the rules, would take place on Saturday.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who spent about 10-and-a-half hours Wednesday holding the Senate floor to call for a full debate and amendments on the reauthorization bill, outlined parts of his amendment strategy on Thursday. Paul's amendments include a proposal to require a federal court to sign off before the government can issue a National Security Letter seeking to compel access to records of private entities.
Paul's 2016 presidential campaign continued the fundraising drumbeat and efforts to gain support outside Washington for his Fourth Amendment efforts.
"At this point in the fight, any legislative delay only increases pressure on spy state apologists — and increases the likelihood you and I could walk away with a win," Paul said in a campaign message.
"The most important — and most controversial legislation is always saved until the last minute. Then backers claim there's no time, even for debate. And at the last minute, some backroom deal is rammed into law — and the American people get sold down the river," Paul wrote. "Well, I have news for Members of the Senate who just want to force another extension of the "PATRIOT Act" and get out of town: They are going NOWHERE any time soon."
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