The controversial bill blocking mass phone surveillance by the National Security Agency may cause an “ugly” rift in the GOP when it is introduced in the Senate again next year, The Hill reported
The legislation, the USA Freedom Act sponsored by Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy, came up two votes short on Tuesday of the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate.
The vote was largely along party lines, with 41 Republicans and just one Democrat opposing it. The Republican-controlled House had previously passed a version
of the bill, which could limit the NSA's surveillance powers over Americans.
When the bill resurfaces under a GOP-run Senate in 2015, the battle lines are likely to be drawn between potential GOP presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Cruz was one of four GOP lawmakers to support the bill while Rubio expressed fears that it would curtail U.S. efforts to fight Islamic extremists in the Middle East. Paul maintains that the legislation takes away from Americans' civil liberties, according to The Hill.
Kevin Bankston, the policy director at the Open Technology Institute who backs the bill, told The Hill that he expected there would be “an ugly intra-party fight over surveillance reform next year.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the act because it would "hinder the ability of intelligence community analysts to query a database to determine links between potential terrorists."
Currently, the NSA can conduct metadata searches
on Americans’ phone calls, including who they speak to and the length of the call, although the agency cannot record the conversations.
The revelation that the spy agency had been collecting and storing domestic phone records since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was among the most significant by fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Leahy’s bill would have required the NSA to get a court order before searching for terror suspects’ records. The program is set to expire next June without the bill being passed.
Outgoing Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, a proponent of the legislation, said, “There were members who wanted to end the whole program. I do not want to end the program. I’m prepared to make the compromise. If we do not pass this bill, we will lose this program.”
Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the author of the Patriot Act and sponsor of the House version of the Leahy bill, said earlier this year that NSA “will end up getting nothing” if the reformed program is not given the go-ahead.
But Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who wants to rein in the NSA’s powers, said any form of re-authorization was unlikely to be approved by the Senate.
After the vote, Wyden said: “At this point, people like me are going to ask ‘How is your policy going to make people safer while at the same time protecting people’s privacy rights?’ Because I think based on what I’ve heard, there wouldn’t be either.”
Retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the Intelligence Committee’s ranking Republican, shrugged off Wyden’s comments, saying, “I’m confident the next Congress will address it and do it in the right way this time.”
Chambliss added: “It’s an important program and this country has got serious issues relative to homegrown terrorists as well as those who are going to be coming to the United States to carry out actions.”
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