Leahy’s NSA reform bill died on the Senate floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Updated 8:19 p.m. | An effort backed by the Obama administration to overhaul the NSA’s controversial surveillance activities died in the Senate Tuesday.
Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted to block the bill, which came just two votes shy of the 60 needed to come to the floor for debate.
Just four Republicans joined Democrats to advance the bill: Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Bill Nelson of Florida was the only Democrat to vote against cloture.
The 58-42 vote came as a blow to the measure’s champion, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. It was aimed at ending the bulk collection by the government of phone data and other records of Americans and reforming oversight of the NSA’s programs.
Leahy decried opponents who he said used fear to oppose the bill. He recalled that a lethal anthrax letter was addressed to him — and he would have died if he had touched it — but said the Constitution and civil liberties are more important.
McConnell, however, blasted the measure as one that would aid America’s enemies, including ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State.
His fellow Kentucky Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, voted against the bill because it didn’t go far enough in his opinion to roll back surveillance under the Patriot Act.
“In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans were eager to catch and punish the terrorists who attacked us,” he said in a statement. “I, like most Americans, demanded justice. But one common misconception is that the Patriot Act applies only to foreigners—when in reality, the Patriot Act was instituted precisely to widen the surveillance laws to include U.S. citizens,” Sen. Paul said. “As Benjamin Franklin put it, ‘those who trade their liberty for security may wind up with neither.’ Today’s vote to oppose further consideration of the Patriot Act extension proves that we are one step closer to restoring civil liberties in America.”
Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.
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