114th Senate

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  • Thirty-three minutes after the San Antonio Express-News reported the death of Antonin Scalia, I emailed several conservative consultants involved in past Supreme Court fights: “Can Obama get a replacement confirmed?” The first reply came nine minutes later: “Absolutely not,” the GOP operative replied. “We won’t let them vote.”
  • Senate Republicans don’t even have a concrete proposal to speed the chamber’s glacial pace, but it’s already clear that partisan divisions and chamber traditions will make it very difficult to transform the Senate’s arcane rules and increase productivity.
  • Congress is back with a daunting must-do list, but its first order of business was the Iran nuclear deal. Senate Democrats successfully filibustered a disapproval resolution on Thursday that was meant to kill the deal. The vote was 58-42 —Senate Republicans and other opponents needed 60 to pass.
  • President Barack Obama's Pacific Rim trade pact moved closer to a final U.S. Congress vote, with lawmakers agreeing on Tuesday to limit debate on legislation that would grant Obama authority to speed trade deals through Congress. A Senate vote on the legislation, known as fast-track negotiating power, was expected on Wednesday. Approval at that stage would send the bill to Obama for review. The debate-limiting motion was approved 60-37.
  • The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to restore key authorities of the PATRIOT Act that expired two days ago — and dealt Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a staggering defeat in the process. The 67-32 vote in favor of the USA Freedom Act came over the forceful opposition of McConnell and much of his leadership team, who failed to persuade enough GOP senators to make what they argued were critical changes to the bill. The measure, which passed the House last month, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature and ends an impasse over national security that’s divided Republicans for weeks.
  • The Senate passed the USA Freedom Act without any amendments, on a vote of 67-32, and sent the bill to Barack Obama to sign into law. The bill will end the mass collection of Americans’ phone records by the NSA, restore some expired powers to security agencies, place record storage in private companies’ hands, create a public-interest advocate for the secret Fisa court that oversees surveillance programs, and require the court to notify Congress when it reinterprets law.
  • Three key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire first thing Monday. One of those provisions, Section 215, which the White House uses to scoop up Americans' call records in bulk, has been incredibly controversial both legally and politically. We went over the basics of all this in a separate post earlier this month, but wanted to check in on what's happened since then as the expiration date — and the Senate's rush to resolve this issue — get closer. Here are three questions that will help you understand where everything stands:
  • The U.S. Senate blocked a measure to extend spy agencies' bulk collection of Americans' telephone records early on Saturday, leaving the fate of the program uncertain days before its June 1 expiration. By a vote of 54-45, the Senate failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance a bill that would have extended for two months provisions of the "USA Patriot Act" that allow the collection of vast amounts of telephone "metadata."

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