Rand Paul as the New Russ Feingold

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 15 2011 5:47 PM

Rand Paul as the New Russ Feingold

That's a subject of discussion today, in large part because of a letter Paul sent to colleagues and made available to reporters. The letter:

The Senate yesterday proposed a three-year extension of the PATRIOT Act, a move that would not have allowed for any hearings, amendments, or debate. I objected to this deal. I realize that I might not have the votes to stop this bill, but we should at least discuss this in public as adults.

We should have the opportunity to explain why the Constitution is being violated. We should talk about how we do not have to give up who we are in order to fight terrorism. It is not acceptable to willfully ignore the most basic provisions of our Constitution—in this case—the Fourth and First Amendments—in the name of "security."

As Senators, we should be able to have debate and offer amendments to try to fix the egregious problems with the PATRIOT Act. And Senate leaders have agreed to this. Within 90 days there will be an open debate and amendments on the PATRIOT Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, publicly committed on the Senate floor this afternoon to a week of examination including amendments and debate. While I oppose any extension of the PATRIOT Act, and will vote no, I do welcome the chance to actually talk about this subject over the next few months. 

This victory for discussion was only possible because we stood firm when they pressed for the three-year extension. It is only possible because liberty-loving Americans are standing up. For us to prevail in 90 days, more will need to do so. 

I will stand and fight. I will offer amendments to address the problems with the bill, and I will attempt to convince my colleagues that our oath to uphold the Constitution should always be our first priority as Senators of the United States.

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Standing and fighting today, however, did not mean a filibuster of the PATRIOT Act. The three-month extension and the promise of further debate was all that Paul and the rebels got; there will be no 2005-style debating that stuns supporters of the bill and prompts immediate changes. It's seen as the best the reformers could possibly get right now. (The worst would be a 3-year extension, favored by some Democrats as a way to kick the can past the 2012 election.)

UPDATE, 6:33 p.m.: Reauthorization passed 86-12, with Paul and Utah's Mike Lee voting "no" for the GOP. (Among the GOP aye votes was Ron Johnson, who took Feingold's seat in 2010.) Democratic "no" votes included Frank Lautenberg, Max Baucus, Patty Murray, and Jon Tester -- the last of these is up for re-election in 2012, challenged by Rep. Denny Rehberg, who voted against reauthorization in the House.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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