After standing on the Senate floor for more than 10 hours in protest of the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance programs, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, wrapped up his so-called "filibuster" just after Midnight on Thursday morning.
NSA illegal spying and data collection of innocent Americans must end. Thank you all for standing with me. #StandwithRand— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 21, 2015
The senator and 2016 presidential candidate staged the talkathon ahead of the Senate's consideration of legislation to extend the NSA's authority to collect phone records in bulk. The controversial surveillance program -- which has been deemed illegal by one federal court -- is supposedly authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That section of the law is set to expire on June 1, giving Congress little time to renew it.
Paul started his "filibuster" against an extension of the Patriot Act on Wednesday afternoon, even though the Senate was actually in the middle of debate time on an entirely different issue -- trade authority. Paul's efforts likely slowed down Senate business -- lawmakers are trying to finish a few important bills before taking off for a weeklong recess -- but the Senate is still expected to take up legislation to deal with the expiring NSA program.
The House last week passed a bill, called the USA Freedom Act, which would stop the NSA from collecting phone metadata but still give the government avenues to seek specific phone data from the telecommunication companies, which would be tasked with storing it. It's unclear whether that bill can get enough support to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has promised to put it up for a vote. McConnell and others have said they'd prefer to pass a full extension of the Section 215 program.
During his "filibuster," Paul criticized Senate leaders for not allowing more time for debate on the Patriot Act provisions. "At the very least we should debate, we should debate whether or not we are going to relinquish our rights, or whether or not we are going to have a full and able debate over whether or not we can live within the Constitution or whether or not we have to go around the Constitution," he said.
Paul wasn't alone in his efforts to bring attention to the issue yesterday. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, joined Paul on the Senate floor at various times. He also rallied support online with the hashtag #StandwithRand -- and sent concerned voters to his 2016 website.