Timothy B Lee wrote a great reminder, Rand Paul Is Getting Way Too Much Credit for Killing 3 Patriot Act Powers. It’s great to see because I’ve always assumed that Lee was a little sweet on Paul. But he sees that what Rand Paul is doing is grandstanding. He’s making a lot of noise and making it all about him: Rand Paul Protector of Liberty. But ten hour filibusters are not about governing. As Lee noted, it was really successful at getting Paul a bunch of media attention, “But it ultimately had little effect on the outcome of the legislative fight.”
Mitch McConnell’s play was to get the House’s USA Freedom Act filibustered and then present the straight Patriot Act as the only alternative. The only problem was that 54 Senators — almost all of them in the Democratic caucus (44) — voted the Patriot Act down. Rand Paul was one of ten Republicans to help out in that cause. But clearly, this whole thing was something that the primarily the Democrats did. All that Paul did was showboat the issue and take credit for it. There are Republicans to be given credit, but they are mostly in the House of Representatives — they’re the ones who got the USA Freedom Act passed in the first place (although they couldn’t have done it without some support from the Democrats, and they got a lot).
But even after that vote, the coalition for the USA Freedom Act needed to hang together, which it did through the weekend. Eventually, Mitch McConnell gave up and allowed a cloture vote on the bill and it was passed 77-17. Of course, Rand Paul was one of the people who voted against the bill. He was joined by other loons like Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst. But I understand: the USA Freedom Act is hardly perfect. But it is a great improvement. The fact that Rand Paul voted against it says a lot about what kind of a non-leader he is. And also perhaps that he doesn’t really care about privacy issues except in so much as they can bring him attention.
Lee pointed out something that is really interesting here. In the first vote on the USA Freedom act — the one that failed — Rand Paul voted against cloture. This whole thing could have been over a lot sooner if Paul were inclined to be a statesman, “Paul’s decision to break with the overwhelming majority of pro-privacy senators and oppose the USA Freedom Act delayed the legislation’s passage and created a risk that McConnell would be able to stampede the Senate into renewing the Patriot Act.” That’s a bit chilling, and highlights Confucius’ aphorism, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
Rand Paul, of course, has gotten a lot of good press for all this. Lee countered this, “But a larger share of the credit should go to other senators… Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Mike Lee (R-UT)… three examples of senators who did the hard work of building a consensus for the USA Freedom Act in the Senate.” He also highlighted Representative James Sensenbrenner as the mastermind behind the original bill in the House. Without a clear alternative, Congress would have felt that it needed to pass something. So ultimately, this rare victory for privacy is due to the very existence of the USA Freedom Act. A lot of credit should go out to Congress for how it dealt with this issue.
In general, I don’t think that the professional centrists will be applauding too loudly over this one. When it comes to bipartisanship, they are mostly only interested in things that will hurt the poor like cuts to Social Security. In the two issues where there is a lot of bipartisanship — surveillance and prison reform — the professional centrists don’t much care.