RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And for more on what this debate will mean in Congress moving ahead and potentially in the presidential race, we're joined by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And, Mara, did we not think we were done with cliffhangers?
LIASSON: Well, we thought we were done with cliffhangers and midnight down-to-the-wire votes, but we're not. In the past, these last-minute showdowns were usually about fiscal matters, about keeping the government open, and they pitted President Obama against Republicans, but this one is different. This one is about national security, and it's an intramural fight inside the Republican Party, as you just heard. The House bill - the Republican House bill, which passed overwhelmingly, had the president's support, but the Senate was split between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican hawks, really most of the Republicans in the Senate, and a very small group of more libertarian-leaning Republicans. In the end, it was one senator, Rand Paul, who, as you just heard, could delay the passage of the reformed Patriot Act but not completely stop the bill from passing, which will probably happen later this week.
MONTAGNE: Well, what does this tell us about the state of the Senate that Rand Paul was able to wield the influence that he has in this moment?
LIASSON: Well, it tells you a couple things. Number one, this is how the Senate works. One person can wield a lot of procedural power. On the substantive side, this has been Paul's issue. He's railed against the security state, talked about how the government has no business in your cell phone. He's also been raising a lot of questions about intervention in the Middle East. Are we better off deposing dictators if we get something worse in their stead, Islamic fundamentalists? He blamed Republicans for the birth of ISIS last week. And then on the political side, Paul is a presidential candidate, and he's not in the top tier of Republican candidates, according to the polls, and he would like to get there. So a dramatic filibuster - he spent 10 and a half hours on the Senate floor last week - is a great tool for him to rally his supporters, to raise money, even at the expense of completely infuriating his fellow Republican senators, and it also appears that Paul may have broken a Senate rule by posting footage of himself on the floor in a fundraising video.
MONTAGNE: Well, we here at MORNING EDITION are keeping tabs on those Republican candidates and the new ones entering the field, including one of those GOP interventionists, Lindsey Graham.
LIASSON: He gets in today. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham is a leading hawk. He's kind of the anti-Rand Paul in the race. You can see him on YouTube rolling his eyes as Rand Paul rails against the Patriot Act. Graham is going to be joined by former Texas Governor Rick Perry on Thursday, so the Republican field, which was already very large, is just getting bigger and bigger, and we're waiting for other leading potential candidates, like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker to get in. Bush continues to insist he's not a candidate, insists he hasn't yet decided whether he's going to run, even though he has been campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa, in the early states, hoovering up money, hiring operatives. He's been raising a lot of questions in the process, even though he needs to, quote, "not be a candidate technically," so he can legally raise unlimited amounts of money for his super PAC, but no one believes him when he says he hasn't yet decided whether he's going to run. This is one of the many reasons why people are cynical about politics.
MONTAGNE: And, Mara, we can't leave the Democrats out. Give us the count on that side.
LIASSON: Well, the Democrats are actually getting a field. Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, got in on Saturday. Link Chafee, who was the former Democratic governor of Rhode Island and the former Republican senator of Rhode Island, is going to get in on Wednesday. Bernie Sanders, who's already in the race, has been drawing real crowds in Iowa. So Hillary Clinton has some competition. And Democrats said they didn't want a coronation, and it doesn't look like they're going to get one, even though Hillary Clinton is still the prohibitive favorite. She is the presumptive nominee, but she says she plans to fight for every vote, and now she has some real competition. Democrats feel having alternatives is good for the party. Hillary's supporters feel having alternatives is good for her. Having some sparring partners make her a better candidate for the general election. So we are going to have a real debate inside the Democratic Party, and there will actually be candidates on the debate stage standing next to Hillary Clinton.
MONTAGNE: All right. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thanks much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.