Kentucky Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul emerged from the center of Sunday's Senate drama bloodied and battered — by each other.
Paul won a temporary end to several Patriot Act domestic spying programs that he says are invasions of innocent Americans' privacy.
But Paul has burned so many bridges with Republican colleagues over the issue that he will have a hard time getting anything done in the Senate. (For example, he accused some of his opponents of "secretly" wanting a terrorist attack "so they can blame it on me.")
Of course, legislative accomplishments are not really his focus at the moment; Paul, a longtime champion of civil liberties, is struggling to ignite more interest in his presidential campaign than voters and donors have been showing.
McConnell, the Senate majority leader since January, said late last year that he would support Paul's quest for the presidency. Paul had supported McConnell against a Tea Party challenger in last year's Senate primary.
On Sunday, McConnell aimed a barb at Paul when he denounced a "campaign of demagoguery and disinformation launched in the wake of the unlawful actions of Edwin Snowden."
The government collection of phone records was secret until Snowden leaked classified documents in 2013. The program and other domestic spying were authorized after 9/11 to avert more attacks.
But McConnell set the stage for Paul's theatrics Sunday by waiting until the last minute to take up the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. McConnell chose to bypass the committee process, despite promises that he would revive the process. Under threat of the programs expiring, McConnell planned to ram through what he wanted, which was no changes in the law.
The Senate rejected McConnell's plan as it adjourned for the Memorial Day recess. Unable to rally enough support, McConnell had to give up on renewing the bulk collection of phone records as is.
During the rare Sunday session, McConnell reluctantly had no choice except to push a bipartisan bill the House approved earlier in May. It continues two fairly noncontroversial programs while ending the government's collection of phone metadata and shifting the responsibility for saving the records onto telecom companies. A warrant would be required to obtain phone records.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a procedural motion to take up the House bill. But though it takes 60 votes to do almost anything in the Senate, one senator can stop the action, and Paul blocked the House bill as well as McConnell's proposal for a temporary extension of the less controversial provisions. They allow tracking of burner phones and terrorists unaffiliated with a foreign government.
McConnell has raised some reasonable concerns about the logistics of shifting responsibility for maintaining phone records to the companies. These concerns can be addressed through the amendment process expected to begin today — if the Senate can remember how to work its own processes.