It's all but guaranteed now: The NSA's authorization to collect telephone data on Americans is going to end tomorrow—at least for a few days. That became clear when Rand Paul told Politico that he will block an extension the Patriot Act as well as progress on a related House bill during tomorrow's rare Sunday session in the Senate. Key provisions of the act expire at midnight, including that NSA authorization, and Paul says he can and will block even a temporary extension of them. Mitch McConnell is expected to try to move ahead with an alternative—the USA Freedom Act, which already has passed the House—but Paul plans to dig in there, too. The upshot is that Politico thinks he can delay passage of the bill until Thursday, meaning the bulk collection program will go dark for at least three days. (And perhaps longer, because the House would then have to agree to any Senate changes in the USA Freedom Act.)
“Tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program,” says Paul, who has made opposition to the surveillance a key part of his 2016 presidential campaign. Yesterday, President Obama warned that even a temporary lapse in the program posed a threat to national security, reports the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t want us to be in a situation in which for a certain period of time those authorities go away, where suddenly we’re dark, and heaven forbid we have a problem where we could have prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone who engaged in dangerous activity, but we didn’t do so simply because of inaction in the Senate.” The Senate begins meeting about 4pm Eastern tomorrow.