The US Senate failed Sunday to reach a deal that would prevent key counterterror provisions from expiring at midnight, after Senator Rand Paul blocked the chamber from advancing a solution.
“The Patriot Act will expire tonight,” said Paul, a 2016 presidential candidate, after hours of ultimately fruitless debate on how to get a reform bill across the finish line that would have preserved important national security provisions.
The USA Freedom Act, which has already passed the House, would end the National Security Agency’s controversial dragnet that scoops up telephone data on millions of Americans with no connection to terrorism.
But with the Senate yet to act on protecting or reforming critical counterterror elements, including the telephone metadata program as well as provisions that allow roving wiretaps on terror suspects and lone-wolf tracking, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for a rare Sunday session to thrash out a solutions.
He came up short. While the Freedom Act advanced in the Senate on a vote of 77 to 17, Paul — who wants the entire bulk data provision scrapped and does not support the reform bill — made clear he would block any further advancement of the measure Sunday, or any extension of the Patriot Act.
“There is no way to get any type of agreement tonight — either an extension or passage of a bill,” Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr told AFP.
“So at 8:00 o’clock (0000 GMT) tonight, NSA employees can not query the database,” he added, referring to one element of the agency’s preparations to shut down provisions of the Patriot Act that sunset at the last minute of May 31.
The lapse is likely to be only temporary, with senators and senior aides agreeing that the chamber is expected to vote on final passage of the reform bill by Tuesday or Wednesday.