In a tense vote after midnight, the Senate failed to move forward on the House-passed USA Freedom Act, legislation that would end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of call data. The vote was 57-42, just short of the 60-vote threshold needed after stiff opposition and last-minute whipping Friday night into Saturday from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP defense hawks. Senators then easily rejected a motion to move ahead on a McConnell backed two-month extension of the Patriot Act's spying authorities.Flustered, defeated, McConnell huddled with senators and eventually determined that the Senate would return on Sunday, May 31st to give the Senate "one more opportunity to act responsibly" before the the bulk collection program officially expires. Senate Minority Leader pointed out that it was McConnell's own intransigence in trying to manipulate the Senate that led to this outcome. "'That's what happens when you try to jam everything in just a short period of time,' Reid said. When asked if anything would change next Sunday, Reid said, 'I don't know, you'll have to ask Rand Paul [and] the Republicans.'"
If the two high-stakes votes at 1 a.m. weren't enough, the dramatic scene that followed showed how tense things are in the Senate. […]
McConnell proposed an even shorter-term extension of the surveillance authorities—from their current June 1 expiration date through June 8, giving the Senate time to take its Memorial Day recess before returning to take up the issue once again. Sen. Rand Paul objected on grounds he wanted up-or-down votes on his amendments to the Freedom Act, and what followed was an unusual exchange between McConnell and pro-reform senators that resulted, where much of the night did, in no solution.
McConnell suggested putting off the debate until June 5, earning objection from Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Then McConnell tried for June 3, to the objection of Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. Finally the majority leader asked for an extension through June 2. Paul objected again, and the Senate took another short break.
McConnell forcefully whipped against the House-passed USA Freedom Act, and according to one Republican aide, told senators "that a vote for USA Freedom was a vote to cancel recess." But the close initial vote on USA Freedom—a bipartisan majority of 57—suggests that without the pressure from leadership, the House reform bill could pass. The question now is whether McConnell will allow the vote, and if he'll allow the amendments Paul is insisting upon. Proponents of real reform have an actual opportunity now to come back to structure a strong reform bill. It's largely up to McConnell, who should have gotten the idea by now that he's not going to get his way.