Cruz girds for McConnell showdown in rare Sunday session – By Alexander Bolton – 07/26/15 06:00 AM EDT

Greg Nash

Sen. Ted Cruz has found a way to seize the spotlight at a time his campaign for president is losing the battle for buzz.

The Texas Republican on Sunday will attempt an unusual procedural move to overturn Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) blocking of his amendment on the Iran nuclear deal.

McConnell, seeking to move a federal highway funding bill through the Senate fast, has cut off most amendments to the measure — though he is allowing a vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

That decision has infuriated Cruz, who took to the floor on Friday to accuse his leader of lying to him.

On Sunday, Cruz needs a majority of the Senate to back his objection to McConnell — a tall order that is unlikely to be achieved.

Either way, it could be good news for Cruz, who wants to cast himself as a fighter struggling against the Washington establishment.

Republican strategists say the floor battle gives Cruz a vital shot of publicity at a time his campaign is being overshadowed by celebrity business mogul Donald Trump, who has soared to the top of GOP polls as Cruz has lost support.

A recent Washington Post/ABC news poll showed Trump leading the GOP presidential field nationwide with 24 percent support. It showed Cruz in eighth place with 4 percent.

“For someone trying to run for a president as a populist outsider and Trump sucking all the oxygen out of the room, this couldn’t come at a better time,” Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign.

“It’s something where Cruz can get air time and reassert himself in the 2016 debate,” he added. “Donald Trump is taking away his supporters. They are both running in the same lane right now. If Trump blows up, Cruz is the most likely to be the biggest beneficiary.”


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Senate Passes Freedom Act, Ending Patriot Act Provision Lapse – By Steven Nelson June 2, 2015 | 6:34 p.m. EDT

The legislation will ban bulk collection of records, backers say.

The Senate approved the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday, delivering a defeat to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who first sought a "clean" reauthorization of intelligence laws before pushing unsuccessful amendments.

The Senate approved the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday, delivering a defeat to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who first sought a “clean” reauthorization of intelligence laws before pushing unsuccessful amendments.

The mass surveillance-reforming USA Freedom Act passed the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, ending an impasse on reauthorization of three surveillance authorities and putting in motion a purportedly permanent end to the government’s automatic bulk collection of U.S. phone records.

President Barack Obama supports the legislation and likely will sign it into law at the earliest opportunity, reinstating and modifying surveillance powers that lapsed Sunday night through 2019.

Within six months, the National Security Agency will need to abandon its wholesale collection of phone records and transition to acquiring call logs of targets and those of their contacts as needed in intelligence investigations.

Thirty-two senators voted against the legislation, which would not require phone companies to store records longer than they currently do.

[READ: Kentucky Senators At Odds – And Taking the Blame – for NSA Shutdown]

Federal regulations require landline phone providers to keep records at least 18 months, but wireless and online call providers have retention policiesranging from zero days to 10 years, introducing the potential for privacy-conscious carrier changes.

The legislation ultimately backed by 67 senators blocks the government from transferring mass phone record collection to other authorities, such as national security letter statutes or Section 214 of the Patriot Act – one of 14 Patriot Act provisions made permanent in 2005.

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The moment Rand Paul has been waiting for – By MANU RAJU 5/30/15 4:31 PM EDT

He plans to force the expiration of a surveillance law he’s been railing against for years — but the political risks are enormous.



Hours before the Senate’s PATRIOT Act standoff hit its peak this month, Republican leaders thought they had Rand Paul figured out. He would object, rail on the matter on the Senate floor — and then let at least a temporary extension through.

“I don’t agree with Sen. Paul on this issue, but I think he’s been a constructive guy,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said just before the week-long recess.

A day later with the clock past midnight and the Senate in a standstill largely because of Paul’s objections, Cornyn wasn’t nearly as generous.

“I’m a little surprised,” a perplexed Cornyn said. “Sen. Paul is asking for something that nobody will agree to.”

Paul’s handling of the PATRIOT Act issue has caught many of his GOP colleagues by surprise — and he now plans to drag the fight days past a midnight Sunday deadline, forcing the sweeping surveillance law to expire. Despite repeated cajoling by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the Memorial Day recess, Paul plans to block his fellow Kentuckian’s efforts to expedite debate, he told POLITICO Saturday.

“Let me be clear: I acknowledge the need for a robust intelligence agency and for a vigilant national security. I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies,” Paul said in a statement. “But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them. In fact, we must not. There has to be another way. We must find it together. So tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program.”

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Last night NSA scare tactics finally stopped working – Updated by Timothy B. Lee on May 23, 2015, 10:50 a.m. ET

There was drama in the Senate last night, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell struggled to extend a Patriot Act provision that supporters say allows the government to conduct mass surveillance of Americans’ calling records. (Opponents think the program is illegal regardless, but the legislative provision has become a focal point for the fight over the larger issue.) But his fellow Kentucky Republican senator, Rand Paul, led the charge to stop him. Wrote the Hill:

The battle between the two Kentucky Republicans spilled over on the Senate floor, with Paul using procedural tactics to force the chamber into an early Saturday vote. He then used his leverage to kill off McConnell’s repeated attempts to reauthorize the expiring National Security Agency (NSA) programs — first for two months, then for eight days, then for five, then three, then two.

It’s a tactic advocates of mass surveillance have used repeatedly in recent years:

  • They drag their feet on legislation to curtail NSA spying authority until the last possible minute.
  • They argue that it would be reckless to let old spying authority expire without an alternative to put in its place.
  • Terrified of appearing soft on terrorism, members of Congress have repeatedly extended current authority without changes.

But it didn’t work this time, and for good reason.

The NSA program the Senate was debating last night, which collects phone records of every American, was never authorized by Congress in the first place. At least that’s the view of the Second Circuit Appeals Court, which ruled the program was illegal earlier this month. While the secretive FISA court disagrees with the Second Circuit, the latter’s ruling has stiffened the spines of those who believe the program was illegal from the outset.

And two years after the phone records program was revealed by NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden, the program’s advocates still haven’t produced any convincing evidence that the program makes us safer.

There’s broad agreement that the government should have access to the calling records of suspected terrorists, of course. But there’s no reason to think it’s helpful to collect the calling records of millions of innocent Americans just in case one of them happens to be a terrorist. And in particular, there’s no reason to think that a few days or weeks without bulk collection of telephone records will lead to a rash of terrorist attacks. The US government still has a number of ways to get the calling records of terrorism suspects — these mechanisms just involve more court oversight.

Finally, after years of repeating this tactic, it’s become clear that it’s just that — a tactic. Mass surveillance advocates are going to use it over and over to keep current law in place indefinitely. Only by saying no to short-term extensions and being willing to actually let the program lapse will reformers have the leverage to insist on serious reforms of the spying agency.

PATRIOT Act spying programs on death watch – By Seung Min Kim and Kate Tummarello 5/14/15 8:56 PM EDT Updated 5/14/15 8:56 PM EDT

Squabbling among senators means surveillance authorities may well expire at the end of May.

Rand Paul is pictured. | AP Photo

With only days left to act and Rand Paul threatening a filibuster, Senate Republicans remain deeply divided over the future of the PATRIOT Act and have no clear path to keep key government spying authorities from expiring at the end of the month.

Crucial parts of the PATRIOT Act, including a provision authorizing the government’s controversial bulk collection of American phone records, first revealed by Edward Snowden, are due to lapse May 31. That means Congress has barely a week to figure out a fix before before lawmakers leave town for Memorial Day recess at the end of the next week.

The prospects of a deal look grim: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday night proposed just a two-month extension of expiring PATRIOT Act provisions to give the two sides more time to negotiate, but even that was immediately dismissed by critics of the program.

The House just overwhelmingly approved its own bill to reauthorize those sunsetting authorities while reining in the phone records program, and lawmakers in the lower chamber have pledged to fight any Senate attempts to pass weaker or no reforms.

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Iran bill a mess after Cotton, Rubio try to force votes – By Burgess Everett 4/30/15 11:43 AM EDT Updated 4/30/15 10:01 PM EDT

Republican amendments complicate efforts to secure Democratic support.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28:L to R, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speak to the media during a news conference after a policy meeting with Senate Republicans, on Capitol Hill, April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate began debate on Tuesday on legislation granting Congress the ability to review and possibly reject any nuclear deal the United States makes with Iran. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sen. John Barrasso, Sen. John Thune and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. | Getty

Sens. Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio used a hardball procedural tactic on Thursday to force contentious votes on a bill allowing congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, a move that jeopardizes the measure’s future.

After being blocked by Democrats for several days, Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rubio (R-Fla.) used a parliamentary procedure to try to compel votes on amendments that would make Iran relinquish its nuclear facilities before getting economic sanctions relief and require that Iran recognize Israel’s statehood as a condition of any nuclear deal.

The move blindsided Democrats who had been working with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to pass the bipartisan bill. Afterwards, Corker offered a grim assessment of the amendment process. Still, the bill is likely to pass eventually, albeit with few alterations requested by the GOP.

“We have been working very constructively with the other side of the aisle to bring up both very controversial amendments and amendments that will make the bill much stronger,” Corker told reporters. “With the actions that just occurred on the floor that may have changed the dynamic significantly.”

Senators in both parties said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would likely have to move to cut off debate on the bill after Democrats sent clear intentions to GOP leadership that they would no longer play nice on voting on GOP amendments.

“My sense is, today, that Mitch will move toward filing cloture (to end debate) on Monday,” Corker said in an interview later.

“I think the best road ahead is to file cloture,” said former Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who wrote much of the bill with Corker. “For the Republican leadership, the question is: ‘Do you want a bill or not?’”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who frequently used procedural tactics to shut down uncertain amendment processes when he was in power and infuriated Republicans by doing so, said McConnell “hasn’t asked me for any advice and I’m not giving any.” He refused to say if Thursday’s events validated his approach as majority leader.

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Las Vegas Man Admits He Lied About How Harry Reid Injured His Eye – By Margaret Hartmann April 27, 2015 12:57 a.m.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is clearly hiding something. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is clearly hiding something. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The conservative blogosphere has been trying to figure out how Harry Reid injured his eye, since the 75-year-old Senate Majority Leader’s claim that he fell while exercising is clearly just a cover story. Earlier this month, blogger John Hinderaker reported that a source, Easton Elliott, told him that Reid’s brother Larry showed up drunk to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeeting on New Year’s Eve and admitted that he’d beaten up a relative. As the story spread online, Elliott appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio show and chatted off-air with Rush Limbaugh, but now he tells the Las Vegas Sun that he made the whole thing up. His real name is Larry Pfeifer, and he just wanted to make a point about the lack of journalistic standards in certain partisan media outlets. “It was just so outrageous,” he said. “The fact that someone can say something completely false that can destroy somebody’s life, it’s just wrong. Where’s the moral compass?” He makes a great point – and more importantly, this basically confirms that Reid was smacked around for sassing some mobsters.

“A corrupt, unresponsive and plutocratic disaster”: How Mitch McConnell and the GOP remade Washington in their image – Elias Isquith Saturday, Apr 25, 2015 05:00 AM PDT

Now that the GOP’s in control, Mitch McConnell is letting some things pass — and taking all the credit


"A corrupt, unresponsive and plutocratic disaster": How Mitch McConnell and the GOP remade Washington in their image

Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell  (Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder/James Lawler Duggan/Photo montage by Salon)

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is by most accounts an awkward, charmless politician who is motivated by little more than a ruthless desire to accrue power and win his next election. He has no set ideological principles (he was once a labor-friendly, pro-choice moderate, for example) and despite having been in Congress for some three decades, no legislation of real significance bears his name. To all appearances, he is exactly the kind of nakedly ambitious cipher that our society rewards but that we the people claim to hate. I would, generally speaking, rather write about someone else.

But the depressing-yet-undeniable truth is that, besides President Barack Obama and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, no individual has made a greater mark on the U.S. government over the last six years than Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is the godfather of the obstruction über alles strategy that the Republican Party implemented — mostly successfully — from 2009 to 2015; and he is the party leader most responsible for the GOP retaking control of the Senate despite refusing to moderate even a tiny bit. And did I mention that he’s a leader of the war on campaign finance regulation, too?

So when the Hill reports, as it did this week, that McConnell’s next goal is to persuade the media and the American people that Congress has been more productive with him running the Senate than it was under the Democrats and Sen. Harry Reid, you should pay attention. And when mainstream, influential and ostensibly left-of-center outlets like Vox report that, after years of dysfunction and gridlock, Washington is finally “working,” you should be concerned. Because there’s an important lesson here — one learned through painful experience — and it’s not the one McConnell (or Vox) thinks.

The Struggling Majority – By Susan Milligan March 30, 2015 | 12:01 a.m. EDT`

The GOP hasn’t gotten as much out of being in charge as it would have liked. But is that about to change?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner participate in the ceremony to sign H.R.203, the "Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act." in the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015.

Republicans retaking the congressional majority hasn’t meant smooth sailing for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner.

It was going to be their big chance – the opportunity to get things done, prove they could govern and tighten the reins on President Barack Obama. With historic majorities in Congress, Republicans were perfectly poised to rebrand themselves as the sober legislators ahead of the 2016 elections.

“Serious adults are in charge here, and we intend to make progress,” new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in January.

More than two months in, the GOP has been troubled by internal fissures, an emboldened president and what has been roundly decried as bad judgment, at best, in weighing in on sensitive foreign policy matters. The majority agenda has been thwarted in the Senate by Democrats who (after complaining about filibuster abuse when they had control) have largely stuck together in holding up GOP legislation. In the House, where the rules overwhelmingly favor the majority party, leaving the minority to merely make opposing speeches on the floor, the Democrats have exploited GOP divisions to exert astonishing influence.

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Loretta Lynch nomination hits another hurdle – By Seung Min Kim 3/15/15 5:08 PM EDT Updated 3/15/15 8:03 PM EDT

The longer her nomination waits, the more time there is for wavering Republicans to break against her.

Loretta Lynch is shown. | Getty

Loretta Lynch could be waiting a bit longer to pack her boxes and move into the Justice Department headquarters as its new leader — as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated Sunday that Lynch won’t get a confirmation vote until the Senate finishes an anti-trafficking bill now bogged down over a fight on abortion.

Any additional lag time on Lynch — who has already waited far longer than other recent attorneys general to be confirmed — poses risks for both sides. Democrats believe the GOP would be damaged politically if a perception takes hold it is holding up Lynch, who would make history as the first black woman to serve as U.S. attorney general. But the longer her nomination lingers in the open, the more time there is for wavering Senate Republicans to break against her — meaning that Lynch could be confirmed with the fewest number of “yes” votes in history.

Since she was nominated more than four months ago, Lynch has faced a litany of hurdles — lame-duck Democrats who punted her nomination to this year, immigration actions by President Barack Obama that she wasn’t involved with but didn’t disavow and, now, an uncompromising Senate tangled up over an anti-trafficking bill.

“I had hoped to turn to her next week, but if we can’t finish the trafficking bill, she will be put off again,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, after indicating a few days earlier that a vote on her nomination would come to the Senate floor this week. “They need to come to grips with this.”

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