By Eric Lieberman
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and other senators like Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon tried to filibuster Tuesday night on the Senate floor during a debate over the government’s massive surveillance powers, but colleagues didn’t let them.
In a cloture vote passing 60-38, the Senate voted to move ahead on voting on the bill at hand. There was originally a long delay as Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana went back and forth between powwows on the Senate floor, one with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who voted to push through with no amendments to the legislation, and the other with Paul, Wyden and other civil liberties advocates. Kennedy eventually casted his vote to move the process along, despite apparent appeals from the crew ready to filibuster.
Lawmakers are now set to debate and vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a piece of legislation that was recently set to expire, but was temporarily reauthorized at the end of the year, and passed by the House last week for six more years.
“I voted against cloture on the FISA reauthorization legislation because, particularly on a bill that has such a profound impact on the civil liberties of American citizens, senators should have the opportunity to offer, debate and vote on amendments,” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said in a press release.
Paul and several others voted against cloture — the legislative process of triggering a vote on a bill — because, like Cardin, they feel as if they didn’t have enough time to debate the merits and negatives of the legislation.
“I rise in opposition to the government listening to your phone calls, reading your emails or reading your text messages without a warrant,” Paul said on the Senate floor in an impassioned speech to colleagues prior to the cloture vote. “It doesn’t mean the government will never do this, but it means they will have to ask a judge. They would have to ask a judge if they have probable cause that you committed a crime.”
Some differed on the opinion of the bill, and the accusation that debate on the intelligence community’s surveillance powers was rushed.
“It’s not a perfect bill, but I hardly have worked on a perfect piece of legislation,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who is also the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said while advocating for the bill. He asserted that its comprehensive enough for the IC, while still making some ostensible concessions.
Warner even turned around during his speech in an attempt to personally address Wyden and his deep-seated concerns.
“We’ve been debating this issue for the past 18 months,” Warner continued. “I believe this bill will strengthen and protect Americans.”