With US counterterror provisions facing expiration at midnight Sunday and the Senate unable to avert a national security crisis, lawmakers from both parties trained their ire on a singular target: Rand Paul.
The first-term senator from Kentucky, a 2016 Republican presidential hopeful and a lawmaker known for throwing political bombshells on the Senate floor, dropped one of his biggest doozies since he came to Washington five years ago.
Paul effectively blocked the advancement of a reform bill, the USA Freedom Act, that would have done away with a controversial government surveillance program that collects telephone data from millions of Americans with no connection to terrorism.
Absent congressional action, that controversial National Security Agency program, exposed to the world two years ago by Edward Snowden, was set to expire.
But so were two other non-controversial national security tools, allowing roving wiretaps on terror suspects who frequently change their telephone numbers, and lone-wolf tracking authority.
“The only reason we have a lapse is Rand Paul,” fumed Senate Democrat Claire McCaskill after Paul objected to advancing the reform bill or approving a short-term extension of the Patriot Act.
Paul`s fellow Republicans were also up in arms, as the clock ticked toward midnight with no resolution in sight.
Forcing the national security provisions to expire “means that some of the Section 215 tools can`t be used for new investigations,” a frustrated Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr said.
“NSA employees that typically query the data base won`t be able to query it — all compliments of Rand Paul.”
“I`ve listened to Rand Paul… object to everything,” Burr added.Similar sentiments echoed around the US Capitol, where lawmakers recall how Paul essentially helped throw the Senate into chaos after midnight on May 23.
With Congress poised to head out for a one-week break, Paul blocked short-term extensions of the national security provisions, forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call for a rare Sunday session to try and reach a solution hours before the tools expired.
It didn`t work, and McConnell, who has essentially endorsed Paul for president, was left red-faced by his fellow Kentuckian.
Many lawmakers who attacked Paul suggested he was grandstanding for political purposes, energizing his presidential campaign at the expense of national security.
“It`s so irresponsible for one senator to prevent action to extend and reform three key counterterrorism tools for his own political gain,” warned senior Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“Holding critical national security programs hostage to raise political donations is outrageous, but that`s where we stand today.”
Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who has frequently clashed with Paul, also addressed Paul`s larger political aspirations.
“I think he obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
Paul hit back at his critics, saying “some of them, I think, secretly want there to be an attack so they can blame it on me.”