WASHINGTON (AP) — Blaming a “handful of senators” for stalled national security legislation, President Barack Obama said Friday he has told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senators that he expects them to take action swiftly to extend key Patriot Act provisions.
Without action by midnight Sunday, a number of tools that permit law enforcement to pursue and investigate suspected terrorists will expire. Obama pinned responsibility directly on the Senate if something were to go awry.
“I don’t want us to be in a situation in which for a certain period of time those authorities go away and suddenly we are dark,” he said. “And heaven forbid we’ve got a problem where we could have prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone who is engaged in dangerous activity but we didn’t do so simply because of inaction in the Senate.”
Among the provisions that would expire is the National Security Agency’s ability to search and amass Americans’ phone records. The most prominent critic of the legislation is Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a GOP presidential contender. In an interview Friday between campaign stops in South Carolina, Paul said voters are encouraging him to continue fighting the government’s bulk collection programs.
McConnell is calling the Senate back into session Sunday, just hours before the midnight deadline, “to make every effort to provide the intelligence community with the tools it needs to combat terror,” his spokesman, Don Stewart, said Friday.
But it’s not clear lawmakers will have any new solution.
Obama argued that changes made in the Patriot Act would provide greater civil liberties protections while retaining essential law enforcement tools. He said many of the authorities that would expire are non-controversial, such as the use of so-called “roving wiretaps” that track suspects through their multiple cell phone usage.
“The only thing that is standing in the way is a handful of senators who are resisting these reforms despite law enforcement and the (intelligence community) saying ‘let’s go ahead and get this done,'” he said as he wrapped up an Oval Office meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch.