WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lashed out against a major National Security Agency reform bill on Tuesday, claiming that it would aid terror groups like the Islamic State.
Almost a year ago, an independent review board could find no instance in which the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans' phone call records "made a concrete difference" in stopping a terrorist plot. Raising the specter of a U.S. aid worker recently beheaded by the Islamic State, however, McConnell argued that ending the phone tracking program would help terrorists.
“If our aim is to degrade and destroy [the Islamic State], as the president has said, then that’s going to require smart policies and firm determination,” McConnell declared. “At a minimum, we shouldn’t be doing anything to make the situation worse. Yet that’s just what this bill would do.”
McConnell argued that the USA Freedom Act would tie the NSA’s hands as it seeks to track Islamic State militants.
That bill is up for a procedural vote on Tuesday night, after Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had scheduled it for consideration last week. Reid is in the waning days of his tenure as Senate majority leader before McConnell's Republican majority arrives in January. President Barack Obama announced his strong support for the USA Freedom Act on Monday.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), sponsor of the bill, needs Republican help to get the needed 60 votes on cloture, so that the Senate can finish debate on the USA Freedom Act and then take a straight up-or-down vote. McConnell’s opposition will make it more difficult for Republicans to say yes.
Rand Paul, Kentucky's junior GOP senator, also opposes the bill -- but on the grounds that it does not go far enough to rein in the NSA. It is unclear whether he will give his support to debate in the procedural vote Tuesday night.
Seventeen months have passed since the first leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Yet McConnell suggested that a procedural vote on the USA Freedom Act reflected a rush to judgment -- and hinted at his displeasure that Reid was trying to move a major piece of legislation before the new GOP majority arrives in January.
“With the current law not expiring until June, it’s unclear why the majority leader wants to rush this untested bill through in a lame duck session,” said McConnell.