WASHINGTON – Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, a freshman and tea party favorite, all but ran the Senate for three days this week in defiance of leaders of both parties trying to extend the Patriot Act before parts of it expire at midnight Thursday.
Using filibuster tactics, Paul has delayed action on the intelligence-gathering measures, contending they should expire because the Patriot Act gives the government too much power to monitor people's lives. He spent most of the week demanding that Majority Leader Harry Reid make good on a promise earlier this year to allow him to offer amendments to the post-9/11 law.
Paul started the week with a dozen proposed changes. Reid, who does not much consider freshmen Republicans, first tried to deal with — and then flatter — Paul into getting out of the way of the extension.
"Sen. Paul has been very upfront with me. He's never hidden a punch," Reid said. "I have only the highest regard for him."
By Wednesday evening, it appeared the measures were in real danger of lapsing unless Paul backed off his demand for a debate. Reid invoked an obscure procedure that could not be blocked, but Paul has insisted on using all of the time for debate allowed under Senate rules, which would push a vote on renewing the measures well past the midnight Thursday deadline.
"If he thinks it's going to be a badge of courage on his side to have held this out, he's made a mistake," Reid, D-Nev., announced.
Paul opposes the entire Patriot Act as an unconstitutional intrusion on people's liberty.
"Do we want a land, a government without so much restraint that at any time they can come into your house?" he said. "We were very worried about that. That's why our country was founded on principles such as the Fourth Amendment."
The Patriot Act, enacted after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, gave the government expanded powers to hunt for and monitor suspected terrorists on American soil. Libertarians and liberal-leaning Democrats long have said the law doesn't adequately protect people's civil rights.
One expiring provision allows the government to use roving wiretaps on multiple electronic devices and across multiple carriers. Another grants court-approved access to business records relevant to terrorist investigations. The third, a "lone wolf" provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. individuals without the government having to show a connection between the target and a specific terrorist group. The Justice Department says it's never been used.
Paul has Senate allies on both the right and left who want to increase the Patriot Act's oversight and public disclosure requirements.
"This is not a Patriot Act," said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. "Patriots stand up for the Constitution. Patriots stand up for freedom and liberty that's embodied in the Constitution. And I think true patriots, when they're public servants, stand up and do what's right, even if it's unpopular."
House and Senate leaders of both parties agreed last week to vote on a four-year extension of the measures unchanged after intelligence gleaned from al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden's hideout this month indicated that the terrorism threat survives.