Just hours before the U.S. Patriot Act was set to expire, a handful of GOP presidential contenders joined the Obama administration in attacking Sen. Rand Paul’s efforts to block the reauthorization of the act—calling it a “threat to national security.”
Speaking on CBS's Face the Nation, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is expected to announce his bid for the White House soon, warned that allowing the Patriot Act to expire could put the country in danger.
Bush went on to argue that the act does not violate American civil liberties, as Paul and other critics of the NSA surveillance program argue.
"There's not evidence, not a shred of evidence, that the meta-data program has violated anybody's civil liberties," he said.
Separately, another presidential hopeful, former New York Gov. George Pataki, said Paul is "simply putting Americans at risk for a political reason.”
In an interview on CNN, he said: "I think he's wrong. I don't understand why, if it's going to happen on Wednesday or Thursday, he doesn't allow it to happen today."
Paul has made his opposition to the NSA’s surveillance program a key platform of his presidential campaign. On Saturday morning, the Kentucky senator pledged that he would fight to let the provisions expire.
"Tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program," Paul wrote in a statement from his presidential campaign. "I do not do this to obstruct. I do it to build something better, more effective, more lasting, and more cognizant of who we are as Americans."
The Senate is expected to hold a Sunday evening vote on three provisions of the Patriot Act--including Section 215 of the law, which the NSA has used to authorize its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
The lawmakers will be considering the USA Freedom Act, which was approved by the House earlier this month. It would reauthorize provisions in the Patriot Act but would require the NSA to cease collecting Americans’ phone records. The records would be held by the phone companies.
Others critical of the NSA’s data collection, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is vying for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said today he would reluctantly consider supporting the USA Freedom Act. He added: "We have to look at the best of bad situations."
“I have been very, very worried by the invasion of privacy not just by the government but by business interests as well,” Sanders said on NBC’s Meet the Press. Like Paul, Sanders and others don’t think the bill goes far enough.
Paul has said he would let a vote go through if he is allowed to bring two amendments up for a single majority vote, though he hasn’t specified which ones. One possibility is a proposal to close a “backdoor search loophole” that allows the NSA to collect Americans’ communications under a separate provision to target foreigners, according to The Hill newspaper.
However, if that doesn’t happen, Paul has threatened to hold up the vote and let the provisions expire. In perhaps one last ditch effort to put pressure on the Senate, CIA chief John Brennan echoed the concerns of Bush and Pataki, saying that allowing the act to expire would threaten national security. Brennan blamed political grandstanding for allowing the reauthorization of the act to go to the 11th hour.
“I think that there’s been a little bit too much political grandstanding and crusading for ideological causes that have rally skewed the debate,” the CIA chief said. “These tools are important to American lives.”
The Senate is expected to consider reauthorization starting around 6 p.m. Sunday evening.
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