Saturday, May 23, 2015

Big News Overnight

Even though it was a Friday night on a holiday weekend, a lot happened while you were sleeping. Here's a quick rundown:

Enough of the votes have been counted that both sides agree: Ireland voted to legalize marriage equality.

The Senate voted 62 - 37 to pass Trade Promotion Authority. Now it's on to the House.

But in the most convoluted story, the Senate failed to pass a bill to change or extend the Patriot Act. To understand what happened here, it's important to know that the Patriot Act is set to expire on June 1st if it is not reauthorized. There are currently three factions on this one:
  1. Majority Leader McConnell and a few Republican hawks in the Senate want the Patriot Act extended "as is."
  2. Senator Rand Paul and a few libertarians want the whole thing to expire.
  3. A huge bipartisan majority in the House (338-88) voted for the USA Freedom Act, which would change the NSA metadata program by shutting down the government's collection of phone call records, but allow them to access the information from telephone companies with a FISA court warrant. Last night, a bipartisan majority in the Senate (57 - 42) voted to approve the same thing. But obviously it wasn't enough to beat the filibuster.
You can read about all the shenanigans that went on last night at the link up above. The end result is that the Senate couldn't pass anything and left town for a week. But McConnell says they'll have to return early for a vote on Sunday, May 31st to avoid the expiration on June 1st. It's unclear what will change between now and then, though.

What's interesting about this is that it all comes down to a procedural problem that has the two Senators from Kentucky wielding tiny minorities to hold up a clear majority. I'm sure that Sen. Paul is feeling pretty revved up this morning about his "victory" over the Majority Leader. And Sen. McConnell's leadership on all this was shown to be really weak.

There is no doubt about what a large majority in Congress (as well as the White House) supports in all of this. It remains to be seen whether or not that means anything in the Senate these days.

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