Senate Hammers McConnell, Passes NSA Reforms

— UPDATED: 6/02/15 3:31pm

I can hear neocons' heads exploding now. It's a compromise measure, but it's progress toward getting rid of our national paranoia over time. The next set of reforms will likely move closer toward that goal.

CNN reports:

The Senate approved on Tuesday a bill to reform National Security Agency domestic surveillance programs, ending a drawn-out showdown on Capitol Hill that saw counterterrorism provisions expire.

The vote was 67 to 32.

The bill, which passed the House nearly three weeks ago, now heads to President Barack Obama, who has pledged to sign the bill.

The vote came two days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell begrudgingly moved to vote on the USA Freedom Act after pressure from House Republicans, the Obama administration and staunch reform advocates in the Senate, like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who helped force the expiration of the Patriot Act provisions late Sunday.

McConnell had hoped to fully reauthorize the Patriot Act, which would have kept in place more broad information gathering powers for the NSA. The USA Freedom Act is seen as a compromise measure that offers some reforms.

Not that the neocons didn't try. They did.

"This bill is part of a pattern going back to the time the President took office to pull back," McConnell said. "This is a step in the wrong direction."

Senate passage on Tuesday came only after members defeated a series of amendments pushed by Senate Republican leaders they said would toughen the House version.

That move drew heavy fire from supporters of the current bill and from GOP House leadership, who warned the proposed changes wouldn't pass muster in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded Thursday before the vote that those efforts were "an uphill battle."

"We were not going to simply rollover and accept the House bill without debating it and attempting to amend it," McConnell said Tuesday afternoon. "There are a number of us who feel very strongly that this is a significant weakening of the tools that were put in place after 9/11."


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Evidently there were less of them than he thought.

Here's a link to McConnell's rant, with the unedited closed captioning transcript below. (C-SPAN isn't allowing me to embed it.)

Earlier this year I observed that president Obama's national security policy has been noteworthy for its consistent objectives. He's been very consistent.

Drawing down our conventional and nuclear forces, withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, ending the tools developed by the previous administration to wage the war on terror, and placing a greater reliance upon international organizations and diplomacy.

That's been the hallmark of the Obama foreign policy. None of this is a surprise. The president ran in 2008 as the candidate who would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror. And our nation has a regrettable history of drawing down our forces and capabilities after each conflict only to find ourselves ill-prepared for the next great struggle.

The bookends to the president's policies were the executive orders signed his very first week in office which included the declaration that Guantanamo would be closed within a year, without any plan for what to do with its detainees, and the executive orders that ended the Central Intelligence Agency's detention and interrogation program.

Now some of these detainees, my colleagues, some of them are now in Qatar preparing to rejoin the Taliban. Some are in Uruguay camped out in a park across from the American embassy. And regrettably, some are back on the battlefield in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria. Other hallmarks of the Obama foreign policy.

And last year the president announced that all of our combat forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of his term in office whether or not -- whether or not -- the Taliban were successful in capturing parts of Afghanistan, whether or not Al Qaeda's senior leadership had found a more permissive environment in the tribal areas in Pakistan, and whether or not Al Qaeda has been completely driven from Afghanistan.

So I’ll repeat, the pattern is clear. The president has been a reluctant Commander in Chief.

And between those two bookends, my colleagues, much has occurred that has undermined our national security. There was the failure to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Iraq that would have allowed for a residual military force and prevented the assault by the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant. China is aggressively expanding its sphere of influence.

There's a threat to veto funding for the troops. We just heard it from the minority leader, and their equipment without similar increases at the IRS and the EPA let me say that again. The president is threatening to veto a defense bill unless we increase the funding for the IRS and EPA this is going to diminish our military's ability to respond to the myriad threats that are facing us today.

And we all know what they are. Al Qaeda and the Arabian peninsula has doggedly pursued tactics and capabilities to circumvent all that we've done since September 11, 2001, to defend our country. So while the president has inflexibly clung to campaign promises made in 2008, the threat from Al Qaeda has metastasized around the world.

ISIL, which has broken from Al Qaeda, uses social media to communicate with Americans and divert them to encrypted communications, encourage travel to the would-be caliphate, and encourage attacks right here at home. Al Qaeda and ISIL publish online magazines instructing individuals in terrorist tactics and in the long run, the Al-Nusra front in Syria may produce the greatest long-term threat, the greatest long-term threat to our homeland.

The president's efforts to dismantle our counterterrorism tools have not only been inflexible, they are especially ill-timed. And so today the Senate will vote on whether or not we should take one more tool away from those who defend this country every day. The ability of a trained analyst under exceedingly close supervision and only with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to query a data base of call data records based on reasonable, arrest -- articulable suspicion. No content, no names, no listening to phone calls of law-abiding citizens. None of that is going on. We're talking about call data records. And these are the providers' records, which is not what the fourth amendment speaks to.

It speaks to the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. But these records belong to the phone companies. Let me remind the Senate the standard for reasonable, articulable suspicion is that the terror suspect is associated with a -- quote -- "foreign terrorist organization" as determined by a court. Nobody's civil liberties are being violated here.

The president's campaign to destroy the tools used to prevent another terrorist attack has been aided by those seeking to prosecute officers in the intelligence community, diminish our military capabilities and despicably to leak and reveal classified information, putting our nation further at risk.

Those who reveal the tactics, sources and methods of our military and intelligence community give a play book -- a play book to ISIL and to Al Qaeda. As the associated press declared today, the end of section 215 program is a -- quote -- this is the headline in the a.p. today -- quote -- "a resounding victory for Edward Snowden." a resounding victory for Edward Snowden.

It is also a resounding victory for those who currently plotted against our homeland. Where was the defense of the National Security Agency from our president? Our chairman of the Intelligence Committee and his committee colleagues have worked with determination to educate the Senate concerning the legal, technical, and oversight safeguards currently in place. We hear concerns about public opinion.

A CNN poll released today, just today, a CNN poll -- not exactly part of the right-wing conspiracy -- states that 61% of Americans, 61% of Americans think that the expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act, including my colleagues, including data collection, should be renewed.

So if there's widespread concern out across America about privacy, we're not picking it up. We're not reporting it to CNN. 61% of them said not concerned about my privacy. I'm concerned about my security.

My view is that the determined effort to fulfill campaign promises by the President back in 2008 reflects an inability to adapt to the current threat, what we have right now. An inflexible view of past political grievances, a policy that will leave the next President in a weaker position to combat ISIL.

So, Mr. President, I cannot support passage of the so-called USA freedom act. It does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens, and it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters, in my view, at exactly the wrong time.

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