Section 215: The Final Countdown

By Elizabeth Holland

Having failed to address the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Senate will convene this Sunday afternoon with hopes of striking a deal just hours before the June 1 deadline. With the clock ticking, both chambers of Congress must scramble to address the surveillance reform supported by over 80 percent of Americans or risk sunsetting existing authorities.

Last weekend, the Senate narrowly voted down cloture on the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) before adjourning for the Memorial Day recess. At the same time, members of both parties also rejected four efforts by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to extend the expiring USA PATRIOT Act provisions in the short-term. In the week since the failed votes, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have each floated “compromise” legislation to address the expiring surveillance laws. Both bills contain flaws and omissions that are incompatible with the goal of stopping domestic bulk collection, as AALL stated in a coalition letter sent to Senate leadership today. Meanwhile, Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) have watched over their chamber’s pro forma sessions this week to ensure that GOP leaders didn’t extend expiring portions of the law without their consent.

There are several possible scenarios that could play out in Sunday’s Senate session. The Burr, Feinstein, or another yet-unknown compromise bill may be introduced and brought for consideration. Senator McConnell could drop his vocal opposition to the House-passed USA FREEDOM Act and allow another vote, with amendments. The Majority Leader may also attempt to pass another short-term extension and call on the House to act immediately, but it’s far from guaranteed that the House would agree to an extension, even a short one. With no clear path forward, the possibility that the PATRIOT Act provisions will sunset on Sunday at midnight is considerable.

AALL will be watching the Senate proceedings closely. We continue to urge passage of the USA FREEDOM Act and oppose any weakening amendments or extension of the PATRIOT Act that does not end bulk collection of Americans’ records. For the latest developments, follow us on twitter at @AALL_GRO and be sure to contact your members of Congress if you have not already done so.

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