The Senate is scheduled to vote early next week on a House-passed bill to renew the government’s surveillance powers — nearly two months after key national-security tools lapsed amid an impasse between the two chambers.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in an interview that a deal had been struck among Senate leaders to vote as soon as Monday on at least three amendments to the House bill, the product of bipartisan negotiations with the Trump administration. A source familiar with the matter confirmed the Senate plans.
Senators left town in March without renewing key sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, even after the House passed its compromise, amid objections from the Senate’s most vocal civil libertarians who said the compromise bill did not go far enough to safeguard Americans’ privacy rights.
Senators later agreed on a short-term extension of the FISA powers before leaving Washington for five weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the House never ended up voting on it.
As a result, three provisions have remained dormant since their authorities expired on March 15. The House bill would, among other reforms, permanently end the National Security Agency’s program allowing bulk collection of Americans’ phone records as part of terrorism investigations — a process that had already been deactivated.
Paul, perhaps the Senate’s strongest critic of the government’s spying programs, secured a vote on his amendment that would prohibit the FISA court from authorizing surveillance of an American citizen, citing long-standing concerns among President Donald Trump’s allies that the president’s 2016 campaign was unfairly targeted by the FBI when it sought a warrant for an adviser to the campaign.
“If you believe the president was mistreated, I would think people would vote for my amendment,” Paul said. “I also would think that Democrats who are consistent in believing that the FISA court has too much power should vote for my [amendment] as well.”
Another amendment, offered by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), aims to strengthen legal protections for targets of federal surveillance. The third amendment, co-authored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), would shield Americans’ internet browsing history from warrantless surveillance.
All three amendments, which require 60 votes, are expected to fail. Lee predicted that “if none of the amendments are adopted, I think it gets tougher to pass” the underlying House bill.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) seemed less certain.
“I suspect that in the end, hopefully the product will be the House bill, but you never know until you have the votes,” Thune said.
Attorney General William Barr negotiated the House bill on behalf of the Trump administration, but some of the president’s allies have suggested Trump might not sign it once it reaches his desk.
“I think that if it goes to the president without significant reforms, there’s a chance he may veto,” Paul said, adding that he will “encourage” Trump to veto the final bill if it does not include the reforms outlined in the senators’ amendments.