Rand Paul Digs in on NSA Surveillance

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Rand Paul is at it again.

More than two years after a 13-hour filibuster, the Kentucky senator and 2016 GOP presidential contender is back on the Senate floor. This time, he’s protesting the National Security Agency’s dragnet surveillance programs targeting Americans.

“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer. That time is now and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged,” Paul said at the opening of his remarks.

The Senate is considering this week whether to reauthorize a crucial section of the Patriot Act or reform the law to rein in the government’s sweeping powers to collect phone metadata on millions of Americans in an effort to thwart terrorist plots. The House last week overwhelmingly approved a bill to reform that law.

The NSA’s bulk collection program expires at midnight on June 1, and the Department of Justice warned in a memo shared by a GOP aide on Wednesday that the agency will have to begin preparing several days before the expiration date for a potential lapse in the law.

Paul’s gambit isn’t quite the same as the episode in 2013, which was widely anticipated and brought him national attention for delaying the confirmation of CIA chief John Brennan to draw attention to U.S. drone policies. His speech on Wednesday isn’t technically a filibuster because intricate Senate rules will require him to stop talking by early Thursday afternoon for an unrelated vote.

Still, Paul’s office insists this is a filibuster because lawmakers won’t be able to take action on reauthorizing the Patriot Act while he holds the floor.

“Sen. Paul will speak until he can no longer speak,” the spokeswoman, Jillian Lane, told CNN in an email Wednesday.

The Kentucky Republican began speaking at about 1:20 p.m. in Washington and more than two hours later, Sen. Ron Wyden, Paul’s Democratic partner-in-crime on stopping the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, joined him on the floor to aid the effort.

Paul slammed Congress for not scheduling enough time to debate whether to reform the Patriot Act and to debate the merits of NSA surveillance.

“At the very least we should debate, we should debate whether or not we are going to relinquish our rights or whether or not we are going to have a full and able debate over whether or not we can live within the constitution or whether or not we have to go around the constitution,” Paul said on the floor.

The debate over NSA reform has pitted Republican leadership in the House and Senate against each other.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul on Wednesday lamented that ongoing deadlock, slamming GOP leaders for failing so far to broker a deal to keep key provisions of the Patriot Act alive.

“We go dark – in a high threat environment, that’s a very dangerous thing to do, that’s dangerous politics,” McCaul told reporters Wednesday. “I’m disappointed that we’re not able to work this out and now we’re going to do this ping pong game and play politics with national security.”

And McCaul added that Paul’s filibuster drove home his point about the dangers of politics interfering with national security.

“That’s my point,” he said.

Paul and Wyden, the senator from Oregon, both talked up the amendments during Wednesday’s so-called filibuster that they are proposing to add to the USA Freedom Act, a reform bill the House overwhelmingly passed last week. Paul and Wyden are pushing for additional reforms not included in the measure, a compromise bill between reform advocates in the House and House Republican leadership.

Wyden added to Paul’s lambasting of the NSA’s bulk data collection programs and also slammed national security hawks in Congress who have repeatedly held back reforms, Wyden alleged.

“They wait until the very last minute,” Wyden said. “They wait until the last minute and then they say, ‘Oh my goodness it is a dangerous world we’ve got to continue this program the way it is!'”

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, the chief sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, also joined Paul on the Senate floor, promoting his bill and slamming a dysfunctional Congress that he said isn’t serving the American people well on surveillance and other issues.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Paul’s fellow Kentucky senator, is staunchly opposed to NSA reforms, but said he would allow a vote on the legislation.

Passage on that bill is anything but certain though, with some senators supportive of moderate reforms hoping to weaken the bill, while others, like Paul and Wyden, want the bill to do more.

Paul voted against allowing debate on a previous version of the USA Freedom Act last year, saying it did not go far enough.

“The people don’t want the bulk collection of their records. And if we were listening we’d hear that,” Paul said.

The Kentucky Republican is also using his “filibuster” as an opportunity to rally his supporters and raise money for his presidential campaign.

Paul’s campaign sent an email to supporters Wednesday while Paul was speaking on the Senate floor asking for donations to support his presidential ambitions.

Paul also slammed President Barack Obama for refusing to end the program through executive order, despite saying he opposes the bulk data collection program.

“He has every power to stop it and yet the president does nothing,” Paul said of Obama.

Paul repeatedly drew on the Founding Fathers as he laid out his arguments why the government should not be allowed to collect troves of information on innocent Americans in the name of counterterrorism.

“If government were comprised of angels, we wouldn’t need restrictions, we wouldn’t need laws,” Paul said quoting James Madison. He would later quote Ben Franklin as well.

But Paul, a libertarian-leaning conservative, had his own words as well, insisting that Americans should always be wary of the government and increasing government power.

“Anytime you give power to government they love it and they will accumulate more. They will not live within the confines of power unless you watch them, like a hawk you’ve got to watch them,” Paul said.

CNN’s Deirdre Walsh and Athena Jones contributed to this story.