The Senate returns from another vacation today to once again take up matters of national importance at the very last minute. The subject of this rare Sunday session…the Patriot Act…which is due to expire at midnight tonight.
Presidents Bush and Obama have stated that the authorities granted under the Patriot Act are critical to national security and the war on terror. Given that these two party leaders have reached an agreement on the matter you would think that there would be consent within congress and a quick renewal of the legislation. And you might expect that any difference of opinion on the matter would be between the Republican war hawks on the right and the kumbaya bunch on the left. You would be wrong on both counts. Once again the battle rages within the Republican Party.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the senior senator from Kentucky, wants to see the bill pass. In fact he has thrown all of his political weight behind the bill by promising that he would get the bill passed by the midnight deadline. Senator McConnell’s promise should not be taken lightly. He has a long history of pulling compromises on weighty measures from the flames of certain defeat.
McConnell’s major opposition on the floor today will come not from the left but from the junior Republican Senator from his home state of Kentucky; presidential hopeful Rand Paul. Paul has been outspoken in his isolationist leanings and his opposition to what he sees as a violation of our civil liberties under the Patriot Act. In recent days he orchestrated a 10+ hour filibuster against the renewal of the Patriot Act and publically blamed the war hawks in his party for the rise of ISIS and the mess in the Middle East: “The war hawks of my party have been wrong on foreign policy for the past twenty years.” In a direct challenge to McConnell’s leadership, Paul has promised to do everything within his power to stop the bill from renewing. Needless to say his comments have not been well received inside the Republican caucus.
When voters handed Republicans control of the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell confidently promised that the chamber would set aside the gridlock that had characterized the previous six years and return to the job of governing. Thus far his success has not matched his rhetoric. Today he will face another test. Once again his primary opposition will come from within his own party; this time from his compatriot from the Bluegrass State.