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Rand Paul starts NSA "filibuster"

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to students during a discussion on criminal justice reform at Bowie State University, in Bowie, Md., Friday, March 13, 2015.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, on Wednesday started a so-called "filibuster" against legislation to extend the National Security Agency's controversial phone records collection program.

"I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged," Paul said from the Senate floor. "The bulk collection of all Americans phone records all of the time is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment."

I've just taken the senate floor to begin a filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal. It's time to end the NSA spying!

— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 20, 2015

Authority for the NSA's bulk phone data collection program comes from Section 215 of the Patriot Act -- although a federal court recently ruled that the program is illegal. Section 215 is set to expire on June 1, giving Congress little time to renew authority for the program. In fact, the Justice Department sent a memo to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, warning lawmakers that the NSA will have to start winding down its program by the end of this week if Congress doesn't act, the Associated Press reports.

The House last week passed a bill, called the USA Freedom Act, to extend the program while putting the NSA under stricter rules. Now it's up to the Senate to act -- but the outcome in the upper chamber of Congress isn't so clear. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and others have said they'd prefer to pass a full extension of the Section 215 program. Even so, McConnell has promised to hold a vote on the USA Freedom Act.

While Paul claimed to be "filibustering" a full extension of the Patriot Act, the Senate on Wednesday afternoon was actually in the middle of debate time on an entirely different issue -- trade authority. The Senate is expected to finish its 30 hours of debate on the trade bill around midnight, giving Paul hours to rail against the NSA without actually holding up any legislation.

After midnight, however, Paul could slow down the Senate. The longest he could delay a final vote on the trade bill, according to Senate rules is until 1 p.m. Thursday.

That would create a logjam for the chamber, which was aiming to vote on the trade bill and the NSA issue before leaving for a weeklong Memorial Day recess on Friday.