Paul, McConnell part ways on Patriot Act

Paul, McConnell part ways on Patriot Act

Sens. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal GOP making counteroffer to Kavanaugh accuser The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins MORE and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report MORE are on opposite sides in the battle over government surveillance, putting the alliance between the two Kentucky Republicans to the test.

While McConnell made clear this week that he wants to move forward with his own “clean” legislation to reauthorize three expiring portions of the Patriot Act, Paul, who is running for president, has been one of the law’s most vocal critics.

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With a handful of legislative days left until the surveillance measures expire, Paul has been surprisingly mum on whether he opposes McConnell’s plan, though few expect him to stay silent for long.

“I think both McConnell and Paul realized all along in this deal that there were going to be issues where they just had to agree to disagree,” said Josh Withrow, legislative affairs manager at FreedomWorks, which opposes McConnell’s Patriot Act bill. “This will probably be one of those.”

Their relationship got off to a rocky start, when McConnell endorsed Trey Grayson, then Kentucky’s secretary of State, in the 2010 Republican primary against Paul, who shortly after refused to say whether he would back McConnell for Republican leader.

Since then, the two men have struck up a friendship, with Paul providing critical support to McConnell on the campaign trail during his reelection race last year.

Returning the favor, McConnell has said he is “almost certainly” supporting Paul in his White House bid, adding that his colleague is “the most credible candidate for president of the United States since Henry Clay.”

“I’m a big fan of his,” McConnell said on CNN last year. “I mean, we started off on opposite paths, but we’ve become great allies. ... I think he’s a very, very smart, capable guy.”

But their relationship will be put to the test in the coming weeks, when the Senate is expected to take up three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, including the controversial section that the National Security Agency has relied on to collect the phone records of millions of Americans.

The legal powers are set to expire at the end of May, and the Senate’s last scheduled legislative session for the month is May 22.   

McConnell has made clear that he supports a speedy extension of the law, so as not to tie “our hands behind our back” when it comes to terrorism. Legislation he recently introduced with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTrump assures storm victims in Carolinas: 'We will be there 100 percent' Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas Graham: Mueller is going to be allowed to finish investigation MORE (R-N.C.) would renew the Patriot Act provisions unchanged through the end of 2020 and is likely to become the main vehicle moving through the Senate.

“I think, most likely, the outcome is some kind of an extension,” McConnell said this week. 

So far, Paul has yet to take a public stand on the legislation.

“We currently are not commenting on future votes,” Paul spokeswoman Jillian Lane said on Wednesday.

Announcing his candidacy for president last month, Paul vowed he would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records on his first day in the White House.

“The president created this vast dragnet by executive order. And as president, on Day One, I would immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance,” he said.

Last year, Paul voted to filibuster an NSA reform bill that would have extended the Patriot Act provisions to 2017 while also imposing sweeping new limits on the spy agency’s collection of Americans’ communications. Unlike the other lawmakers who opposed the bill, Paul said he cast his vote because the reforms didn’t go far enough. 

In a statement at the time, Paul said he “stood on principle by opposing a bill that included a provision reauthorizing elements of the Patriot Act that violate the Bill of Rights.”

“I have always been steadfast against the Patriot Act and I will continue to do all I can to prevent its extension,” he said in the November statement.

That caused a certain amount of grief among his fellow civil libertarians, who questioned whether his strategy wouldn’t end up empowering hawks in Congress who are skeptical of limiting the NSA. 

This time around, Paul seems to be aiming his fire at other Senate hawks, such as  likely fellow White House hopeful Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' Collins: Kavanaugh accuser should 'reconsider,' testify on Monday MORE (R-S.C.).

“One unapologetic senator who I’ve had a few rounds with said, ‘If you’re not talking to terrorists, why are you worried?’ ” he said in April, in an oblique reference to Graham. “Our Founding Fathers would be mortified.” 

“I think it is a political calculation that he is making by not criticizing McConnell directly,” said one person close to the Senate negotiations, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss the matter frankly.

That’s not to say that Paul will continue to be quiet. 

But as the Senate nears the deadline for action, Paul might try to avoid making it a personal fight with McConnell, observers say.

“I would probably expect him to kick and scream without mentioning McConnell’s name,” the person close to the situation added. “I do not expect Rand Paul to do anything other than theatrics, because he does not want to endanger his relationship with McConnell, and it is clear where McConnell stands.”