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Rand Paul Takes Credit for Advancing NSA Reform Bill He Opposes

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. // Andrew Harnik/AP

Sen. Rand Paul is taking credit for advancing a bill he opposes.

A day after forcing a temporary shutdown of the National Security Agency's bulk collection of America's metadata, the Kentucky Republican said Monday night that his actions actually boosted the surveillance-reform bill known as the USA Freedom Act, which will likely pass the Senate in the coming days despite his repeated—and vociferous—objections that it doesn't go far enough protecting the privacy rights of Americans.

Noting that the Senate failed to get the requisite 60 votes before Memorial Day recess and subsequently voted overwhelming Sunday to move the bill forward, Paul told reporters as he left the Capitol that his blockade of the bill helped Freedom Act advocates.

"The government will no longer be collecting in bulk all Americans' records under a generalized warrant," he said. "So I think that's a big step forward."

"I like to look at the bright side of things," Paul added. "Before I got involved there were 57 votes. Even though I object to the final vote, there's now 77 votes for ending bulk collection. So you could say that I—in an unusual way—persuaded 20 people to switch their vote and to vote to end bulk collection. It's kind of a different way of persuading people, but it seemed to work."

Paul held up consideration of the Freedom Act during a rare Sunday session called to try to stave off the lapse of the Patriot Act's spy authorities—which expired the moment the calendar turned over to June. The presidential candidate has repeatedly said he would relent in gumming up the process if he were allowed simple-majority votes on two amendments to the Freedom Act he is seeking, but the Republican leadership has refused.

On Monday, Paul again objected to allowing the Senate to move more quickly on voting on the Freedom Act when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought unanimous consent to proceed, continuing his delay tactics even though the expiration has already come and gone.

Though Paul is taking credit for the jump in support for the Freedom Act, something else likely played a more significant role: McConnell released his caucus to vote for the measure. The defense hawk had been unusually aggressive in whipping against the House-passed bill until it became clear that there was no support for his push of a "clean" short-term extension. When the measure came up for another vote to proceed Sunday, it jumped from 47 to 77 "ayes," and both McConnell and Majority Whip John Cornyn joined in the switch.

Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and others took to the floor to press for the bill during Paul's 10-plus hour-talk-a-thon on the chamber floor last month. Paul's "fear," as he said Monday, is that the bill would still keep Americans' metadata—the numbers, time stamps, and duration of a call but not its contents—by asking phone companies to hold that data.

"If you think bulk collection is wrong, why do they need new authorities," asked Paul during his "filibuster." "Why are we giving them some new authorities?"

Paul said Monday that his position is still misconstrued.

"I think there's still some misunderstanding about what I want, because I'm for researching the records of terrorists," he added. "I'm just not for having a generalized search of everybody in the American public."

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