Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has ended a more than 10 ½-hour filibuster-like speech on the Senate floor to protest the renewal of the Patriot Act, highlighting his opposition to the National Security Agency's controversial bulk collection of telephone data.
“All this gathering up of bulk data records isn't what we needed,” Paul said on Wednesday of his perspective on how the terrorists behind 9-11 could have been better tracked.
Paul officially relinquished the Senate floor at 11:48 after 10 hours and 30 minutes.
The ‘filibuster’-like move became bipartisan on Wednesday when, after nearly three hours of speaking, Paul yielded to Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon for a question.
“There is no question it is a very dangerous world,” Wyden said. “But what doesn't make sense is to be pursuing approaches that don't make us safer and compromise our liberties.”
Wyden threw questions back and forth to Paul, a technique aimed at giving the main speaker a break. Sen Mike Lee, R-Utah is also expected to join Paul on the floor.
“I guess if he’s going to (filibuster), doing it now as opposed to doing it during the weekend is maybe preferable,” Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican told reporters.
Paul, who early in his career learned the art of the filibuster from McConnell, a fellow Kentucky Republican, used the technique in 2013 to delay a vote on the nomination of John Brennan as director of the CIA. Paul took to the floor to criticize the Obama administration’s use of drones.
He spoke for nearly 13 hours.
He tried another filibuster the next month — this one opposing federal gun control measures — but a vote to end debate scuttled that attempt.
Last week, the House overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act. The legislation passed by a 338-to-88 vote signalling a bipartisan, veto-proof majority.
The measure also has the support of the White House, leaving the Senate in a precarious position.
The House bill is now in the Senate. McConnell, who wants a clean reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, said on Tuesday he will allow a vote on the House-passed measure.
The announcement comes after House Republican leadership publicly called out McConnell to allow a vote on the bill. The House measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate where opposition to the bill stems from concerns it would weaken the government's ability to thwart terror plots.
The issue of NSA surveillance has also divided the Republican presidential field.
Paul, the GOP presidential hopeful who has broken most often with party orthodoxy on foreign policy issues, has made civil liberties a centerpiece of his campaign mantra, but he’s not alone in his opposition to the bulk collection of data. Fellow Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has also said that he favors ending the program.
But two other Senate Republicans with presidential ambitions - Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - say that the Patriot Act should be renewed as it currently exists, arguing that it’s necessary to thwart terror plots and keep Americans safe.
And Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who also may pursue a White House run, agrees.
“You can't enjoy your civil liberties if you're in a coffin," Christie said in New Hampshire on Monday.