Reforms to the Patriot Act seem inevitable, despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's insistence that the bulk collection of phone records should be renewed with no changes.
That puts McConnell at odds with many of his fellow Republicans in Congress who want to end the National Security Agency's once-secret sweeping-up of phone records.
McConnell's attempt to muscle through a renewal as senators were eager to start their Memorial Day recess also put him at odds with his own promise to vet legislation through the committee process.
Authorization for the phone-records collection and two less controversial and oft-used surveillance programs expires June 1.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
McConnell, who insists the phone-call data are critical to foiling terrorists, failed in his early morning brinkmanship Saturday to win even a one-day extension of the surveillance programs.
McConnell underestimated fellow Kentuckian Sen. Rand Paul's determination to kill the Patriot Act. Paul used the moment to fundraise for his presidential campaign, urging donors to "Stand with Rand." The Washington Times reports that Paul criticized McConnell for trying to force a take-it-or-leave-it choice on the Senate, saying, "Our forefathers would be aghast."
The opposition is coming from more than Paul, though, and the Senate impasse contrasts with the House's bipartisan unity.
On May 13, the Republican-controlled House voted 338-88 to approve the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA's routine collection of call records while continuing roving wiretaps of suspects' burner phones and authorization to track "lone wolf" suspects unaffiliated with any foreign government.
When the House bill reached the Senate on Friday night, it fell three votes short of the 60 required to be considered. McConnell led the filibuster against the House bill then failed to win the extension he sought of the expiring programs.
Senate Republicans are divided into at least three camps:
■ Those, like McConnell, who want to renew Patriot Act provisions, including bulk collection of phone records.
■ Those, like Paul, who want to do away with the Patriot Act altogether.
■ Those, like the 11 Republicans who voted for the House-passed Freedom Act, who want to end phone-records collection but keep the other provisions
President Barack Obama supports the House bill.
There's another reason the provision on phone records cannot simply be renewed. A federal appeals court this month unanimously ruled that the NSA's bulk collection of phone records exceeds the authority Congress granted the agency under the Patriot Act.
Unless McConnell is sure the Supreme Court will strike down the ruling, the law would have to be changed to continue the phone-records collection program.
At the end of 2014, the Senate came close to approving its own version of the Freedom Act.
Given the division among Republicans, McConnell's promise to revive the committee process, and the looming June 1 deadline, it's puzzling that McConnell hasn't had committees hammering out a compromise all year.