MARY LOUISE KELLY:
Here in Washington, Congress last night addressed another question of security. Lawmakers scrambled to renew three controversial provisions of the anti-terror Patriot Act that otherwise would have expired at midnight. Minutes before the deadline, President Obama was awakened in France. He had to sign off on the four year extension of the act. Things came right down to the wire, thanks largely to the resistance of one man - freshman Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. NPR's David Welna has the story.
DAVID WELNA: Rand Paul was not the only senator with grave misgivings about the Patriot Act deal worked out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner.
Rather than making its three expiring provisions permanent, as many Republicans would have it, they agreed to extend them another four years but no amendments would be allowed.
That did not sit well with various senators from both parties, but the only one who actually dared to filibuster the deal was the junior senator from Kentucky.
Senator RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky): Do we fear terrorism so much that we will not have debate? Do we fear terrorism so much that we throw out our Constitution, and are we unwilling and afraid to debate our Constitution?
WELNA: It was day two of Paul's filibuster, and majority leader Reid's patience was reaching its limit.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): Let me take a moment to set the record straight.
WELNA: Reid explained he had actually agreed to allow half a dozen amendments, most of them authored by Paul. They were aimed at those three expiring provisions: one allowing roving wiretaps, another authorizing the surveillance of so-called lone wolf terrorism suspects and a third letting courts order the collection of peoples' private information - if they're suspected of having ties to terrorism.
But Reid said Paul wanted still one more amendment.
Sen. REID: The reason is that he's fighting for an amendment to protect the right, not of average citizens, but of terrorists to cover up their gun purchases.
WELNA: That hit a nerve with Paul. He called Reid's charge a scurrilous accusation.
Senator RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky): I've been accused of wanting to allow terrorists to have weapons to attack America. To be attacked of such a belief when I'm here to discuss and debate the constitutionality of the Patriot Act is offensive. I find it personally insulting.
WELNA: The amendment Paul wanted a vote on would have set the legal bar considerably higher for searching registration and sales records for guns.
Sen. PAUL: They are petrified to vote on issues of guns because they know that a lot of people in America favor the Second Amendment, own guns and want to protect it and the right to own guns, and the right to have those records not sifted through by the government.
WELNA: But the majority leader Reid cast Paul as the one endangering people's security. He read from a letter from the National Director of Intelligence, saying there should not be a moment's interruption of the provisions set to expire at midnight last night.
Sen. REID: That expiration date is extremely important, and if he thinks that's going to be a badge of courage on his side to have held this up for a few hours, he's made a mistake. It will set this program back significantly, and that's too bad. The clock is ticking; the ball is in his court.
WELNA: Minority leader and fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell tried turning up the heat on Paul in a floor speech yesterday.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY, Minority Leader): Now is not the time to surrender the tools authorized by this act, or to make them more difficult to use.
WELNA: Paul responded with emails to supporters urging them to tell the Republican leader to stop blocking his amendments. It seemed to work. By late afternoon, a backroom deal had been cut. Paul would be allowed his amendments after all, including the one on guns.
Sen. PAUL: It took me three days of sitting down here filibustering, but I'm going to get two amendment votes. I am very happy and I am pleased that we came together to do that.
WELNA: And there were conciliatory words from the majority leader Reid.
Sen. REID: Even though the Senator from Kentucky, Senator Paul and I have had some differences, what we've done on this legislation has at least helped us understand each other, which I appreciate very much.
WELNA: Later, in a brief interview, Paul sounded equally magnanimous.
Sen. PAUL: It's hard to dislike Senator Reid. I mean, really, in person, it is very hard.
WELNA: Both of Paul's amendments lost by wide margins. The four-year extension of the expiring provisions then passed the Senate 72-to-23. The House too passed it in short order and sent it on to the president.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.