Things got dramatic in the wee hours last night in the Senate, the result being that the Patriot Act—and, specifically, the government's ability to collect bulk surveillance—is now "on life support," reports Politico. Once again, Rand Paul is at the center of things, with Paul saying his stance against the surveillance is a fight for civil liberties and critics like John McCain accusing him of fundraising theatrics, reports the Washington Post. As things stand now, key parts of the Patriot Act are set to expire on June 1. The Senate has gone into recess, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is bringing everybody back on May 31 for a rare Sunday session to try to figure out a last-minute fix. “This is a high-threat period,” said McConnell, who maintains that even a brief lapse in the act is a threat to national security.
All this became necessary when the Senate last night blocked a House compromise measure called the USA Freedom Act that would curb the surveillance programs. (Under the bill, the NSA would no longer collect metadata but could still gain access to it from phone companies.) When that failed, McConnell tried to extend the expiring Patriot Act provisions by one week, then four days, then two days, and then one day. All the extensions were rejected, one by one, thanks to Paul and help from Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich. The upshot is that it's now "almost a sure bet that portions of the Patriot Act" will expire at least temporarily, reports the Hill, which notes that the House is in recess through the end of May.