Presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul took to the Senate floor Wednesday, in what the Kentucky Republican’s staff is calling a long-anticipated filibuster of extending the Patriot Act.
"I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged," the Kentucky Republican said from the Senate floor. "The bulk collection of all Americans phone records all of the time is a direct violation of the fourth amendment."
Separately, Paul tweeted that he had taken to the Senate floor "to begin a filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal."
Paul suggested that the agency’s phone collection program could be the "tip of the iceberg" of the government’s surveillance practices. He said Americans must "decide as a country whether we value our Bill of Rights … or if we are willing to give that up so we feel safer."
The Kentucky Republican also slammed President Obama for not shutting down the NSA’s program in the wake of the a court ruling that determined the program is illegal.
"Where is the executive?" Paul asked. "How come the press gives him a free pass?
The Senate is currently debating "fast-track" trade legislation, with a procedural vote expected Thursday, so Paul is actually blocking his Senate colleagues from offering, debating and voting on amendments to that bill — something Democrats were quick to highlight.
Still, Paul appears poised to deliver a long speech from the floor that could tie up the Senate for hours.
Paul has made his opposition to NSA surveillance one of the cornerstones of his presidential campaign, and has pledged that he would end the "unconstitutional" program on his first day in the White House.
As he began Wednesday’s speech, Paul’s campaign blasted out an email on the NSA speech to supporters, seeking to build momentum.
"I will not rest. I will not back down. I will not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand," Paul wrote in the email.
The note to supporters included a link to Paul’s campaign website where supporters could "join the filibuster" by filing out their name, email and zip code.
Paul has used the Seante floor to his advantage before, famously staging a 13-hour filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan in 2013. On Wednesday, Paul suggested that without his speech, there wouldn’t be a real debate in Congress on the Patriot Act.
"We are mired in a debate over trade. There’s another debate over the highway bill and the word is, we won’t actually get any time to debate if we’re going to abridge the Fourth Amendment," he said.
Senators are facing a looming deadline for action on the Patriot Act, with key provisions set to expire June 1.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged a vote on the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA’s collection of bulk phone records. Under the bill, the agency would have to ask private companies for a narrow set of phone records tied to a particular case. The NSA would also no longer hold the phone records in a government database.
Still, it’s not clear whether the USA Freedom Act can garner the needed 60 votes in the Senate.
McConnell and other top Republicans oppose the USA Freedom Act and are pushing to pass a "clean" extension of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which the NSA uses to justify its phone records program.
If both bills fail, the Senate could be forced to pass a short-term extension of the spy powers — though it’s unclear whether a stopgap measure could pass muster with the House, which passed the USA Freedom Act last week in a resounding vote.
— This story was updated at 2:42 p.m.