“Do we want to live in a world where the government knows everything about us?” he asked. “Do we want to live in a word where the government has us under constant surveillance?”
“We should be in open rebellion, saying, ‘enough is enough, we’re not going to take it anymore.'”
The Kentucky Republican also slammed President Obama for not shutting down the NSA’s program in the wake of the a court ruling that determined the program is illegal.
“Where is the executive?” Paul asked. “How come the press gives him a free pass?”
The Senate is currently debating fast-track trade legislation, with a procedural vote expected Thursday, so Paul is actually blocking his Senate colleagues from offering, debating and voting on amendments to that bill — something Democrats were quick to highlight.
Still, Paul appears poised to deliver a long speech from the floor that could tie up the Senate for hours.
Paul suggested he was using his hours-long speech to try to get Senate leadership to allow for an open amendment process to the USA Freedom Act.
“I came out here today to try to drew attention to it, and if I had a request, it would be for both leaderships to let amendments to go forward,” he said. “We’d like to find out, will the leadership let us have amendments?”
Paul used the NSA debate to further the anti-Washington theme of his presidential campaign, suggesting lawmakers are out of touch with Americans on the issue.
“You have people in Washington who have, I think, viewpoints that are really, really out of step with what the American people want,” he said. “Americans really, I think, have decided that the bulk collection of records is wrong.”
Paul has made his opposition to NSA surveillance one of the cornerstones of his presidential campaign, and has pledged that he would end the “unconstitutional” program on his first day as president.
As Paul began Wednesday’s speech, his campaign sent out an email on the NSA speech to supporters, seeking to build momentum.
“I will not rest. I will not back down. I will not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand,” Paul wrote in the email.
The note to supporters included a link to Paul’s campaign website where supporters could “join the filibuster” by filling out their name, email and zip code.
Paul has used the Senate floor to his advantage before, famously staging a 13-hour filibuster
of John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director in 2013. On Wednesday, Paul suggested that without his speech, there wouldn’t be a real debate in Congress on the Patriot Act.
“We are mired in a debate over trade. There’s another debate over the highway bill and the word is, we won’t actually get any time to debate if we’re going to abridge the Fourth Amendment,” he said.
Paul appeared to compare the NSA’s “metadata” program — which collects records about phone calls but not the content of conversations — to racial segregation in the South.
“There have been times in our history when we haven’t acted in an individualized manner. it happened in the South, the old Jim Crow South,” he said. “So when we talk about individuating warrants, we’re talking about trying to prevent bias from occurring.”
Paul’s hours-long speech also marks a potentially savvy political move, allowing the Kentucky Republican, and his presidential campaign, to dominate the media spotlight for hours Wednesday afternoon.
Matt Drudge, who runs the Drudge Report, backed
Paul’s efforts on Wednesday evening, using the #StandWithRand hashtag on Twitter.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) joined Paul on the floor, saying that no matter how the Kentucky Republican’s speech ends, senators will have a chance to debate the Patriot Act.
“This will not be the last time we are back on the floor,” he said. “My colleague has made a number of very important points already.”
Wyden is leading an effort to move forward on the trade legislation. He said it is his “hope” that once an agreement is found on a path forward on the trade legislation, “it will be possible to resume our work on that very important bill.”
Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) also came to the floor to speak with Paul during his hours-long speech, relieving the Kentucky Republican senator for minutes at a time.
Lee said that while he and Paul disagree on what should be done on NSA reform, he came to the Senate floor because he supports an “open” debate and amendment process.
“I absolutely stand with the junior senator from Kentucky and more importantly, I stand with the American people with regard to the need for a transparent, open amendment process and for an open, honest debate,” Lee said.
More than ten hours into Paul’s effort, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is also running for president, came to the Senate floor saying that Paul “is a voice that this body needs to listen to.”
“I would note that he and I agree on a great may issues, though we don’t agree entirely on this issue,” the Texas Republican said. Cruz, unlike Paul, supports the USA Freedom Act.
Senators are facing a looming deadline for action on the Patriot Act, with key provisions set to expire June 1.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged a vote on the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA’s collection of bulk phone records. Under the bill, the agency would have to ask private companies for a narrow set of phone records tied to a particular case. The NSA would also no longer hold the phone records in a government database.
Still, it’s not clear whether the USA Freedom Act can garner the 60 votes needed in the Senate.
McConnell and other top Republicans oppose the USA Freedom Act and are pushing to pass a “clean” extension of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which the NSA uses to justify its phone records program.
If both bills fail, the Senate could be forced to pass a short-term extension of the spy powers — though it’s unclear
whether a stopgap measure could pass muster with the House, which passed the USA Freedom Act last week in a resounding vote.
Cruz predicted that a “clean” extension of the Patriot Act would fail, saying “the votes ain’t there.”
Paul brushed aside criticisms from his colleagues that letting the Patriot Act expire would threaten national security.
“Couldn’t we just for a couple of hours live under the Constitution?” he asked.
Paul said that he has reached out to leadership about if they would allow amendments to the reform bill, and is hopeful that he will get an answer on Wednesday.
Manchin and Paul discussed how the USA Freedom Act could potentially be changed to gain the Kentucky Republican’s support.
“I want to like it because it ends bulk collection,” Paul said.
Paul’s speech drew an audience from the other side of the Capitol, with Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) coming to the Senate floor to watch.
Paul’s speech marks the second time in a recent weeks a 2016 candidate has gummed up McConnell’s floor schedule.
Separately, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is running for president, and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) used a procedural tactic try to force a vote an amendment that would require Iran to support Israel’s right to exist as part of a final Iran nuclear deal.
The Republicans’ move effectively shut down the amendment process in the Iran legislation, though McConnell said he had hoped for more amendments.
— This story was last updated at 11:39 p.m.