The "USA Freedom Act" -- the proponents of which were heralding as "NSA reform" despite its suffocatingly narrow scope -- died in the august U.S. Senate last night when it attracted only 58 of the 60 votes needed to close debate and move on to an up-or-down vote. All Democratic and independent senators except one (Bill Nelson of Florida) voted in favor of the bill, as did three tea-party GOP Senators (Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Dean Heller). One GOP Senator, Rand Paul, voted against it on the ground that it did not go nearly far enough in reining in the NSA. On Monday, the White House had issued a statement "strongly supporting" the bill.
The "debate" among the Senators that preceded the vote was darkly funny and deeply boring, in equal measure. The black humor was due to the way one GOP senator after the next -- led by ranking intelligence committee member Saxby Chambliss of Georgia (pictured above) -- stood up and literally screeched about 9/11 and ISIS over and over and over, and then sat down as though they had made a point. Their scary script had been unveiled earlier that morning by a Wall Street Journal op-ed by former Bush Attorney General Mike Mukasey and former CIA and NSA Director Mike Hayden warning that NSA reform would make the terrorists kill you; it appeared under this Onion-like headline:
So the pro-NSA Republican senators were actually arguing that if the NSA were no longer allowed to bulk-collect the communication records of Americans inside the U.S., then ISIS would kill you and your kids. But because they were speaking in an empty chamber and only to their warped and insulated D.C. circles and sycophantic aides, there was nobody there to cackle contemptuously or tell them how self-evidently moronic it all was. So they kept their Serious Faces on like they were doing The Nation's Serious Business, even though what was coming out of their mouths sounded like the demented ramblings of a paranoid End is Nigh cult.