Senate takes up House bill but fails to avoid spying lapse

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NSA Patriot Act Powers Lapse, Freedom Act Lives On

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a remarkable turnaround, Senate Republicans have agreed to debate a House bill that would overhaul the National Security Agency's handling of Americans' calling records while preserving other domestic surveillance provisions.

But that move didn't happen soon enough to prevent expiration of legal authority for the programs from expiring at midnight Sunday as Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a presidential contender, stood in the way of extending the program, angering his GOP colleagues and frustrating intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Now, the question is whether the Senate will pass a bill the House can live with. If so, the surveillance programs will resume, with some significant changes in how the phone records are handled. If not, they will remain dormant.

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Senate takes up House bill but fails to avoid spying lapse
President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media during his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Tuesday, May 26, 2015, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Obama began with commenting on flooding in Texas and calling on Senate to act on USA Freedom Act. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02: Sen. Patrick Leahy (L) (D-VT) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) leave the Senate floor after passage of the USA Freedom Act June 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. The legislation will replace the recently expired Patriot Act and passed the Senate by a vote of 67-32. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Joyce Barr (L), chief FOIA officer for the State Department, Melanie Anne Pustay (2L), director of the Office of Information Policy at the Justice Department, Karen Neuman (3L), chief FOIA officer at the Homeland Security Department, and Mary Howard (2R), director of the Internal Revenue Service's Privacy, Governmental Liaison and Disclosure Division, watch as Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-CA) (2R) and Brodi Fontenot, chief FOIA officer at the Treasury Department, shake hands during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill June 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing about the Freedom of Information Act process. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02: U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) talks with reporters about the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act at the U.S. Capitol June 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. Co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the legislation passed the Senate 67-32, matches the House version of the bill and will go to President Barack Obama for his signature. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) (L) tells House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) 'A bad bill is better than no bill at all,' after the final passage of the USA FREEDOM Act at the U.S. Capitol June 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. Reforming how the nation's spy agencies collects citizens' phone data, the legislation passed the Senate 67-32, matching the House version of the bill and going to President Barack Obama for his signature. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02: Sen. John Thune (R-SD) (C) talks with reporters after the final passage of the USA FREEDOM Act at the U.S. Capitol June 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. Reforming how the nation's spy agencies collects citizens' phone data, the legislation passed the Senate 67-32, matching the House version of the bill and going to President Barack Obama for his signature. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) talks with U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (L) in between television interviews in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. In protest of the National Security Agency's sweeping program to collect U.S. citizens' telephone metadata, Paul blocked an extension of some parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, allowing them to lapse at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The Senate will continue to work to restore the lapsed authorities by amending a House version of the bill and getting it to President Obama later this week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) does a live interview with FOX News in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. In protest of the National Security Agency's sweeping program to collect U.S. citizens' telephone metadata, Paul blocked an extension of some parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, allowing them to lapse at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The Senate will continue to work to restore the lapsed authorities by amending a House version of the bill and getting it to President Obama later this week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Earnest discussed the NSA phone collection bill, US-led coalition's IS group strategy, and Bruce Jenner's transition to Caitlyn Jenner, and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: The U.S. Capitol is illuminated at dusk, May 31, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National Security Agency's authority to collect bulk telephone data is set to expire June 1, unless the Senate can come to an agreement to extend the surveillance programs. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: (L - R) Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) listens as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to reporters after exiting the Senate chamber, on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National Security Agency's authority to collect bulk telephone data is set to expire June 1, unless the Senate can come to an agreement to extend the surveillance programs. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National Security Agency's authority to collect bulk telephone data is set to expire June 1, unless the Senate can come to an agreement to extend the surveillance programs. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talks with reporters on his way to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National Security Agency's authority to collect bulk telephone data is set to expire June 1, unless the Senate can come to an agreement to extend the surveillance programs. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama meets with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 29, 2015. The said a "handful of senators" are the only thing standing in the way of an extension of key Patriot Act provisions before they expire at midnight Sunday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama speaks to media as he meets with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 29, 2015. The president said a "handful of senators" are the only thing standing in the way of an extension of key Patriot Act provisions before they expire at midnight Sunday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 29: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) talks to members of the news media after meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office at the White House May 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. Calling it an essential piece of legislation for fighting terrorism, Obama demanded that the U.S. Senate pass the USA Freedom Act, a piece of legislation that would end bulk collection of Americans' metadata, improve the FISA court and other security reforms. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) talks to reporters after leaving the Senate floor on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National Security Agency's authority to collect bulk telephone data is set to expire June 1, unless the Senate can come to an agreement to extend the surveillance programs. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) gets into an elevator after leaving the Senate floor on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2015 in Washington, DC. The National Security Agency's authority to collect bulk telephone data is set to expire June 1, unless the Senate can come to an agreement to extend the surveillance programs. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 19: Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) talks to reporters after the weekly Senate GOP policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol May 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Although he does not support the House version of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate would go forward with a vote on the legislation that would eliminate the bulk data collection programs, which were exposed by Edward Snowden. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
In this image from Senate video, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and a Republican presidential contender, speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday afternoon, May 20, 2015, at the Capitol in Washington, during a long speech opposing renewal of the Patriot Act. Paul claimed he was filibustering, but under the Senate rules, he wasn’t. (Senate TV via AP)
FILE - In this May 19, 2015 file photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Key Patriot Act anti-terror provisions, including bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, expire at midnight unless senators come up with an 11th hour deal in an extraordinary Sunday afternoon session. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
FILE - In this April 29, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. Republican senators eyeing the presidency split over the renewal of the Patriot Act surveillance law, with civil libertarians at odds with traditional defense hawks who back tough spying powers in the fight against terrorism. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
FILE - In this May 16, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul speaks in Des Moines, Iowa. Paul vowed on Monday to “everything possible” to block renewal of the terrorism-era Patriot Act, but the Republican presidential hopeful conceded it may not be enough. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
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The Senate vote on the measure known as the USA Freedom Act can come no earlier than 1 a.m., Tuesday. Senate Republican aides said they expected some amendments, but no major revisions to the bill.

"Having gone past the brink, the Senate must now embrace the necessity of acting responsibly," said Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, in a statement after Sunday's Senate vote.

The high-stakes drama played out as Congress debated the most significant changes prompted by the disclosures of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who revealed the phone records collection and other main surveillance programs. With no deal reached in time, the NSA stopped collecting American phone records at 3:59 p.m. EST Sunday, officials said.

Other authorities that expired allowed the FBI to collect business records in terrorism and espionage investigations, and to more easily eavesdrop on a suspect who is discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance.

Intelligence officials publicly warned of danger, but were not deeply concerned with a lapse of a few days or weeks, given that the authorities remain available in pending investigations. What they most fear is a legislative impasse that could doom the programs permanently.

"The Senate took an important_if late_step forward tonight," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. "We call on the Senate to ensure this irresponsible lapse in authorities is as short-lived as possible."

President Barack Obama supports the USA Freedom Act, which ends NSA bulk collection of U.S. phone records but allows the agency to search records held by the phone companies. That bill, which preserves the other expiring provisions, passed the House overwhelmingly May 13.

Senate Republicans blocked that legislation on May 23, arguing that it undercut the NSA's ability to quickly search the records. It fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance.

But with no other options, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an about-face, reluctantly embraced the House-passed bill Sunday night.

"It's not ideal but, along with votes on some modest amendments that attempt to ensure the program can actually work as promised, it's now the only realistic way forward," McConnell said.

The Senate then voted 77-17 to move ahead on the USA Freedom Act.

McConnell was boxed in by the actions of his fellow Kentucky Republican, Paul, who helped stymie the leader's attempt to pass an extension of current law. Paul objected each time McConnell attempted to bring that measure to a vote.

Paul opposes the USA Freedom Act as not going far enough. But, he predicted, the USA Freedom Act "will ultimately pass."

Earlier, in a fiery speech decrying NSA surveillance, he shouted, "This is what we fought the Revolution over, are we going to so blithely give up our freedom? ... I'm not going to take it anymore." Supporters wearing red "Stand With Rand" T-shirts packed the spectator gallery.

Paul's moves infuriated fellow Republicans and they exited the chamber en masse when he stood up to speak after the Senate's vote on the House bill.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. complained to reporters that Paul places "a higher priority on his fundraising and his ambitions than on the security of the nation."

Paul, for his part, asserted that, "People here in town think I'm making a huge mistake. Some of them I think secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me."

Civil liberties groups were split. Some, including the ACLU, oppose the USA Freedom Act as too weak, and applauded the expiration of the surveillance laws. If the USA Freedom Act passes, the NSA would resume bulk phone records collection during a six month transition period to the new system.

"Congress should take advantage of this sunset to pass far-reaching surveillance reform, instead of the weak bill currently under consideration," said Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

But that seemed unlikely. Liberal senators who have been aggressive in criticizing the NSA are backing the USA Freedom Act.

"I'm pleased Republicans joined with Democrats to do what's responsible and support the passage of the USA Freedom Act," said Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat. "This is a bipartisan compromise that would ensure that our intelligence community has the tools it needs to focus more narrowly on the records of actual terrorists, and end the bulk collection of law-abiding Americans' private phone calls."

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