Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was handed his "biggest legislative defeat" Tuesday when the upper chamber voted overwhelmingly to limit the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans' phone records, according to Roll Call.
The 67-32 vote was a win for the USA Freedom Act, which limits bulk metadata the government can collect by requiring a targeted search warrant to collect the information from phone companies.
The Freedom Act was the compromise bill to replace controversial parts of the Patriot Act that allowed for roving wiretaps, searches of business records, and conducting surveillance of lone wolves, or people suspected of terrorist-related activities who are not linked to known terrorist groups.
In addition to requiring the National Security Agency to present phone companies with a warrant in order to review phone records, the Freedom Act also mandates more transparency in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (known as the FISA court), which reviews the warrant requests.
McConnell, joined by other hawkish Republicans and members of the intelligence and law enforcement communities, continued to push for the extension of the Patriot Act provisions despite tremendous push back from both Democrats and civil libertarian-leaning members of his own party, including fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is running for president.
McConnell had argued that "the bill would not work, would put the United States at risk of terrorist attacks and would pose a greater risk to personal privacy than the NSA program did," according to Roll Call.
After the House overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act by a vote of 338-88, McConnell, the publication reported, gambled that with a Republican majority in the Senate, he could force the House to compromise.
When the issue came up in November, just four GOP senators — Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted in favor of the Freedom Act, Roll Call reported.
But Paul "antagonized" McConnell’s efforts, according to CNN,
repeatedly harping that it was unconstitutional and conducting a 10½
-hour filibuster-like speech on the floor that "roused civil libertarians around the country."
Shortly before the vote, and after McConnell acknowledged that he lacked the support to leave the Patriot Act’s controversial provisions in place, he remarked that the compromise legislation "does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens. And it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our warfighters at exactly the wrong time," USA Today reported.
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