GOP Presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) seized the Senate floor for close to 11 hours Wednesday night filibustering against the extension of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire June 1. The Patriot Act which was enacted after 9/11, provided the National Security Agency the authority to conduct bulk surveillance of consumer communications in an effort to identify and stop potential terrorist activity. “There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” Paul remarked. “That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”
While many saw Paul’s action as way to solidify his position as the libertarian candidate and protector of our freedoms, others saw it as just a political stunt. In addition, the more hawkish members of the GOP see Paul’s efforts to restrict the NSA as a threat to national security. The question of individual liberty versus national security is complicated. Following 9/11 many individuals were more open to greater security measures in the wake of the atrocities which had just taken place. Fifteen years later, many politicians and citizens alike question the efficacy of these bulk data collection programs. After all, these efforts did not stop the Boston Marathon Bomber. But there are others such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who maintain that the Patriot Act has enabled us to gather meaningful intelligence which has been critical in our efforts to thwart terrorism, and that these effort are even more necessary now given the expansion of ISIS.
Paul’s position on the Patriot Act is actually not the issue. At issue is his judgement. By occupying the Senate Floor for close to 11 hours with his filibuster, he was tying up people’s time and attention with a message which he could have find another way to communicate. Paul is known for filibustering. After all, back in 2013, he filibustered for more than 12 hours against the dangers of drone strikes to U.S. citizens on American soil. Paul’s fellow 2016 GOP Presidential contender, Ted Cruz, is also known for filibustering. But what do these acts accomplish other than just draw attention to the individual conducting them. What did Paul accomplish? The Senate still does not have a resolution on the Patriot Act. On Friday evening, the Senate held an after midnight vote where they failed to achieve an outcome on extending, ending or amending The Patriot Act. The Senate also rejected a House bill known as the Freedom Act which would end the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection, failing to get the 60 votes needed to proceed. (57-42). Now Mitch McConnell is calling the Senate back for another vote on May 31, the day before the Patriot Act expires.
Since Rand Paul is running for President, he needs to think more carefully about his actions. He needs to think about whether they are going to produce meaningful outcomes. He needs to be mindful of how he is utilizing the time and resources of others. His action put the Senate in a major time crunch just before a holiday weekend. Furthermore, Paul’s filibuster could have delayed the Senate from addressing other pieces of legislation in a timely manner. Fortunately, the vote on the Trade Promotion Authority which was scheduled for Friday morning was still held. But if this bill or other pieces of legislation had been delayed, that could have created a public relations problem for Rand Paul. Next time, he may not be so lucky. Also, the fact he is releasing a new book this month “Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America”, also made his filibuster appear self-serving. Rand Paul’s libertarian message has struck a chord with many potential voters. He has demonstrated tremendous cross-over appeal to different voter groups, including minority voters and millennials. He should not risk tarnishing the “Rand” brand with a juvenile political stunt.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com