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Senate Blocks Measures To Extend NSA Data Collection

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. Senate managed to pass a controversial trade bill late last night before the Memorial Day recess, then Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky helped bring the next item of business to a halt - that would be legislation to reform or renew the government's authority to access millions of Americans' phone records for terrorism investigations. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: By early evening, there was still a buzz of optimism. As senators dipped into a room near the Chamber to grab plates of Italian food, they spoke of a last-minute deal on the surveillance program that would soon emerge. Here's the number two Republican, John Cornyn of Texas.

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SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: I think once we can get Senator Paul and Senator Wyden in a place where they feel like their rights are protected, then I think we'll end pretty quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hopefully tonight still, right?

CORNYN: Yeah, 10, 11, 12.

CHANG: Try 1:00 a.m. That was the time on the Senate floor when everyone realized there'd be no deal at all.

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SENATOR RAND PAUL: I will object and I do. I object.

CHANG: One lone Senator, Kentucky Republican and presidential candidate Rand Paul wouldn't let the Senate advance even a one-week extension of the government's bulk collection of phone records. He said privacy rights were at stake. A two month extension had just failed on the floor along with a House bill that would let only phone companies store the data.

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SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Mr. President, I renew my request with an amendment to extend the expiring authorities until June the fifth.

CHANG: So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried getting everyone to agree to at least a four day extension so the program wouldn't lapse, he said, and leave Americans at risk.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Objection is heard.

CHANG: OK, maybe a two day extension?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCCONNELL: I renew my request with an amendment to extend expiring authorities until June the third.

CHANG: Nope.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Objection is heard.

CHANG: How about one lousy day?

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MCCONNELL: Mr. President, I renew my request with an amendment to extend expiring authorities until June the second.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Senator from Kentucky.

PAUL: I object.

CHANG: And so McConnell asked the Senate to cut its recess short and return on May 31, just hours before the Patriot Act provisions are set to expire. Maybe a deal could be reached then? But republican John McCain of Arizona is doubtful.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: There's a new breed in the Senate and we have seen the manifestation of it - of people who are willing to - one or two or three are willing to stand up against the will of the majority.

CHANG: But Paul says he's standing up for all Americans. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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