Update 5:35 p.m. ET: The Senate has reached a deal allowing votes on two of Rand Paul's amendments to the Patriot Act. The likelihood of them passing is doubtful but The Washington Post is calling the concessions a major "victory" for the freshman Senator, given how difficult it's been for even senior members of the Senate to get amendments voted on. Update 5:56: The Senate has approved the three key provisions of the Patriot Act thus extending the Bush-era law. Both of Paul's amendments failed. The bill moves to the House for consideration.
Senator Rand Paul is fighting a lonely battle. As Congress moves to renew the Patriot Act, the Kentucky libertarian is single-handedly halting the extension of three key provisions of the Bush-era law through a procedural tactic. While the senate voted to end debate today, Paul is demanding the chamber debate the law for a full 30 hours, which would cause the provisions to expire. "Mr. Paul’s tactic is procedural," reports The Wall Street Journal. "By not agreeing to a request for unanimous consent to yield back debate time, he can insist the debate continues until 7a.m. Friday, past the midnight expiration of the provisions."
As a libertarian, Paul opposes the Patriot Act. But he's facing near-unanimous resistance from Congress, including leaders in both parties. Fellow Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell said it's “absolutely imperative” the provisions get renewed and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid undercut Paul's previous delays through his own "procedural gymnastics." So what's Paul's beef? The Journal describes the provisions he's opposing as such:
The provisions at issue enable law enforcement officials to conduct surveillance on terrorist suspects, including those who switch communication devices such as using disposable cellular phones and those who are so-called lone wolves — individuals who aren’t linked to known terrorist organizations abroad. A third provision enables law enforcement officials access to suspects’ business transactions, including car rentals, hotel bills and other credit card transactions.
To get a sense of how politically dangerous this issue is, the actions of Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden are telling. On Wednesday, Wyden told Wired's Spencer Ackerman about how worrying these provisions were because the administration was interpreting the law in ways the public has no idea of. “We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” Wyden said. “When you’ve got that kind of a gap, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.” Despite his strong misgivings, Wyden did not join the 8 Senators who voted against cloture on the proposal to extend the Patriot Act—a fact Salon's Glenn Greenwald, a staunch civil libertarian, is troubled by. "In sum, Congress -- with the Democratic leadership and the White House fully on board -- is trying not only to extend the Patriot Act with no reforms, but prevent any debate on whether that should happen." We'll keep you updated with how Paul's delay tactics work out.
Update: On Wednesday, Paul responded to accusations from Harry Reid that he was "giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected" on the senate floor: