The Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday, which means that many of the National Security Agency programs revealed by Edward Snowden are no more. The legislation brings many of the provisions in the Patriot Act that ended earlier this week back to life, if reformed somewhat. Sixty-three senators voted in favor of the reform bill, and hours later President Obama signed it into law. “After a needless delay and inexcusable lapse in important national security authorities, my administration will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals again have the full set of vital tools they need to continue protecting the country,” Obama said on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not like the USA Freedom Act, which is part of the reason that it took so long to bring the bill to a vote. He preferred to restore the Patriot Act as it previously existed. Senator Rand Paul and a number of more liberal senators, including Bernie Sanders, did not like the Freedom Act either, albeit for the opposite reason. Paul spent the past two weeks filibustering and fighting passage of the bill because he thought the Patriot Act should expire completely.
Democratic senator Pat Leahy (Vermont) and Republican senator Mike Lee (Utah) led the push to pass this legislation, which had already made it through the House nearly a month ago.
Although the rules for how terrorism is fought and intelligence is gathered have changed, the “USA! USA! USA!” signposting in the legislation governing such practices remains much the same. The Patriot — which stands for Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism — Act imparts the same linguistic flavor as its replacement, the USA Freedom Act. In his memoir Decision Points, President George W. Bush said that his “one regret about the PATRIOT Act is its name.” As The Wall Street Journal summed up his worries:
“I should have pushed Congress to change the name of the bill before I signed it,” Mr. Bush writes. It “was initially called the Antiterrorism Act,” but “Congress got clever and renamed it.”
He concludes, “As a result, there was an implication that people who opposed the law were unpatriotic. That was not what I intended.”
Barney Frank had the same complaint. “It is the PATRIOT bill, it is the USA bill, it is the Stand Up and Sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ bill.”
This post was updated to note that President Obama signed the bill into law on Tuesday night.