Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Monday used last week’s appellate court ruling that NSA bulk collection of call records is illegal to bash his Republican counterpart for wanting to keep it going through 2020.
“My friend, the Majority Leader, keeps talking about extending the program for five and a half years,” Reid said from the floor of the Senate, referencing Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “How can you reauthorize something that’s illegal?” Reid asked. “You can’t. You shouldn’t.”
“Extending an illegal program for five and a half years? That is not sensible,” he said. “What should happen is that we should move forward and do something that is needed here — and that is, do it all over again.”
On Sunday at a speech in Boston, McConnell called the bulk phone call metadata collection program “an important tool to prevent the next terrorist attack,” and said that the U.S. “is better off with an extension of the Patriot Act than not.” Three provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire on June 1, including one that the NSA has claimed justifies the program.
Reid offered an alternative Monday, saying that McConnell should seek to advance the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end the bulk collection of metadata from domestic phone companies. He pointed out that a version of the bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in April by a 25 – 2 vote, and predicted that the legislation would be advanced by a full House vote this week.
Reid also painted the bill as an escape hatch for McConnell — and said he would back a revolt that’s being openly planned, should the Senate Majority Leader attempt to move for a clean extension of the Patriot Act. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have already threatened filibusters.
“This is the only bipartisan, bicameral solution we have today that will end the illegal bulk collection and reform and reauthorize key provisions of FISA,” Reid said.
“Otherwise … I’m not the only one, Mr. President,” he added. “I’m told, walking over here, that the junior senator from Kentucky is not going to let an extension … take place. So why don’t we just go ahead and get it done now.”