The NSA battle's winners, losers

The NSA battle's winners, losers

The fight over the Patriot Act left a lot of bruises in Congress.

Lawmakers on both sides of the debate threw punches and took their fair share of lumps over the USA Freedom Act, which renewed lapsed portions of the Patriot Act and ended the National Security Agency’s controversial phone data collection.


But some jabs stung a little harder than others. Here’s who came out on top and who let themselves get trumped:



Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Judiciary squares off over John Lewis voting rights bill Senate Democrats introduce legislation to strengthen Voting Rights Act 92 legal scholars call on Harris to preside over Senate to include immigration in reconciliation MORE and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRetreating economy creates new hurdle for Democrats in 2022 McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' Senate locks in deal to vote on debt ceiling hike Thursday MORE

Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lee (R-Utah) are separated by 32 years in age, hundreds of miles between their states and a partisan divide that is as stark as it has ever been.

But the veteran liberal and upstart Tea Party favorite were the driving force behind the USA Freedom Act, and they twisted enough arms in both parties to bring home 67 votes on Tuesday evening. 

In the process, the lawmakers demonstrated the new power of a growing coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans, which can undermine Republican leadership.


Reps. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE, Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerProtecting the fundamental right of all Americans to have access to the voting booth Republicans compare Ron Johnson to Joe McCarthy: NYT GOP puts pressure on Pelosi over Swalwell MORE, John Conyers Jr., Jerrold Nadler

The four lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee carefully crafted a compromise bill that, while not going as far as many would have liked, nonetheless secured a huge win in the House.

Goodlatte (R-Va.), the committee’s chairman; Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.); Conyers (D-Mich.) and Nadler (D-N.Y.) negotiated not just among themselves but also with leaders of the House Intelligence Committee and with the Obama administration. That way, they made sure the legislation would hold up to scrutiny from the intelligence committee.

The coordination was not without risks. The lawmakers had to hold off multiple attempts at amending the bill, which, they said, would disrupt its careful calibration.

But in the end, 338 lawmakers voted for the bill in the House — an extraordinarily high number in a time of intense partisanship.

The push was aided by the authoritative voice of Sensenbrenner, the original author of the Patriot Act, who made clear he never intended for the NSA to collect millions of Americans’ phone records.


Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats brace for tough election year in Nevada The Memo: Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt Fight over Biden agenda looms large over Virginia governor's race MORE

The Senate Democratic leader relished every chance he got to lambaste his counterpart, GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHoyer signals House vote on bill to 'remove' debt limit threat Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan MORE (Ky.).

Reid (D-Nev.) skillfully kept his party nearly unified throughout a week and a half of harried voting.

At the same time, he appeared only too happy to point out the foibles of McConnell, who had broken with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) and showed an inability to gauge the temperature of his own party.  


Edward Snowden

Though most lawmakers won’t admit it, and a surprising number insist on calling him “Eric Snowden,” the former contractor and high-profile government leaker made the USA Freedom Act possible.

His first leaks about the NSA’s unknown capabilities emerged two years ago this week, and the man’s name seemed to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

While defenders of the intelligence community accused him of exposing the country to new risks, reformers made clear that no changes would have been possible if the American public had not been made aware of the extent of the NSA’s surveillance.




Sen. Mitch McConnell

The Senate majority leader repeatedly misjudged his own caucus and lost on practically every battle he pushed.

First, McConnell and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDemocratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (R-N.C.) attempted to push a “clean” reauthorization of the Patriot Act provisions for five years.

When that became clearly untenable, McConnell pushed that extension down to two months — enough time, he said, to write a new “compromise” bill.

That plan died in the early hours of the morning over the Memorial Day weekend, when it couldn’t even get the backing of a majority of the chamber. Then, the majority leader seemed to have underestimated Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDemocrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Journalist Dave Levinthal discusses 'uptick' in congressional stock trade violations McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' MORE (R-Ky.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress needs to step up on crypto, or Biden might crush it Democrats face growing storm over IRS reporting provision Best shot at narrowing racial homeownership gap at risk, progressives say MORE (D-Ore.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichGOP lawmakers introduce measure in support of Columbus Day Overnight Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Schneider Electric — Deadly Ida floodwaters grip southeast US David Sirota: Seven Democrats who voted against fracking ban trying to secure future elections MORE (D-N.M.), who opposed his attempt to push back the deadline by just a few days.  

As a last-ditch effort, McConnell and Burr pushed for three amendments on Tuesday, which they said would be minor and “common-sense” changes to the legislation.

But privacy advocates said they would dramatically water down the bill, and House lawmakers said it threatened to blow up the whole process.

In the end, all three amendments failed to obtain a simple majority.


Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Tim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter MORE

The South Carolina Republican has been proud of his status as a hawk in Congress.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, he repeatedly criticized the effort to rein in the NSA and has characterized Snowden as a traitor.

But when it came time to vote, Graham missed it. He was campaigning for president in New Hampshire.

Graham was the only senator not present during voting Tuesday. However, had he been in town, he said on Twitter, he would have voted against the USA Freedom Act.


Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFill the Eastern District of Virginia  On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves MORE

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the Patriot Act updated, is traditionally the domain of the Judiciary Committee.

But Grassley (R-Iowa), the new committee chairman, showed no interest in taking up the issue this year, even as his colleagues in the House worked long hours to hammer out a deal.

Instead, Grassley found himself on the outside looking in, with practically no input in how the debate turned out. 



Sen. Rand Paul

Paul brought the Senate to its knees last week and single-handedly ensured three portions of the Patriot Act expired — if only for two days.

But the Kentucky Republican also irked lawmakers in his own party and caused rifts that might not be able to heal.

Fellow Republicans openly accused Paul of jeopardizing national security to fill up his campaign coffers. He also seriously damaged his relationship with McConnell, his fellow Kentucky Republican who has endorsed his bid for president.

At the same time, Paul’s grandstanding against the law rocketed his name back into the headlines and likely mobilized his core group of supporters.

Whether that has any impact on his chances of becoming the GOP presidential nominee remain to be seen.