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As the clock ticks closer to the deadline for controversial provisions of the Patriot Act to expire, two Republican members of Congress stood side-by-side on the empty House floor on Friday keeping “watch” to prevent any short-term extension by leadership.
“We want to make sure there is someone here watching over the House and ensuring that nothing gets passed in the dark,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., told NBC News in an interview.
It was a lonely vigil.
Amash and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who led the Pledge of Allegiance, attended a short session held as a formality on Friday despite the fact that no votes were expected.
“It only takes one of 435 members to be here on the floor of the House to stop something from passing on unanimous consent,” Massie said about the importance of attending Friday’s pro-forma session.
On Monday, Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the controversial provision that allows the National Security Agency to justify the bulk collection of telephone metadata – is set to expire.
Last week, the Senate blocked both a House-passed bill and a short-term extension of the USA Patriot Act during an early Saturday vote. The bill would have moved the bulk collection of domestic phone records from the National Security Agency to being held by telecom companies.
The Senate will return on Sunday for a rare session mere hours before the Patriot Act provisions expire.
“There are a lot of pressures on the Speaker of the House – pressure from the Senate, there is pressure from the intelligence committees, there is pressure from the intelligence community, there is pressure from the White House,” Amash said. “We want to make sure that with all that pressure on the Speaker there is a backstop. Someone is here to make sure that the American people are protected, their rights are protected, and that we get a full debate on this and a full vote if something comes up.”
“We had many arrows in our parliamentary quiver, let’s say, to stop things if they tried to pass something,” Massie said.
The Speaker’s office did not respond for comment.
Both Amash and Massie are hopeful that the Senate will fail to act Sunday and will force a new debate to take place.
“I think that’s the right thing to do -- to let the Patriot Act expire and start this process over and start fresh, not in a panic,” Amash said.