WASHINGTON — The split in the U.S. Senate's Kentucky delegation over the government's surveillance powers was on full display again Sunday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC's This Week that while he agreed with his junior Republican colleague Sen. Rand Paul on most topics, the question of authorities for the National Security Agency to collect phone records under the Patriot Act was not one of them.
But McConnell was reluctant to concede that a two-month extension he proposed late Thursday would be filibustered, despite statements to that effect by Paul and like-minded senators.
"This is the security of the country we're talking about here," McConnell said. "This is no small matter."
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Paul is scheduled to speak Monday in Philadelphia, but there has been no indication of when he will describe his floor strategy, or if it will include the kind of "talking filibuster" he has used to protest the Obama administration's use of drones for targeted killings.
McConnell said Sunday that he wanted time to make sure a bill that overwhelmingly passed the House with 338 votes, and has White House backing, doesn't destroy the program.
That bill includes the elimination of bulk collection of phone data by the NSA.
"The House-passed bill does not require the telephone companies to keep the records. I fear the House-passed bill will basically end the program," McConnell said. "I want to reassure everybody that there are plenty of safeguards in this program. Nobody at the NSA is routinely listening in to your telephone conversations.
"I don't want us to go dark, in effect, and I'm afraid that the House-passed bill will basically be the end of the program. We'll not be able to have yet another tool that we need to combat this terrorist threat from overseas."
Paul sounds like no fan of the House-passed bill either, but for a different reason. Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, he noted a recent appeals court ruling that found the practice authorized by the Patriot Act to be illegal.
"If the president's obeying the law, he should stop it immediately and we shouldn't be doing this. I don't want to replace it with another system," Paul said. "I really think that we could get along with the Constitution just fine. We did for over 200 years. You can catch terrorists.
"Judges will grant warrants. In fact, if you look at the history of our country ... it's not a difficult lift to get a warrant for most activities that you want to be investigated."