Senate Democrats and Republicans are in a three-way split over how to extend the legal authority to conduct surveillance and information-gathering activities under the USA Patriot Act.

Two Democrats and one Republican have each introduced a bill to address the issue. The bills conflict on how long to extend the authorities and how much oversight to include.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Senate must decide which approach to take before these authorities expire at the end of February.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle McConnell to Dems: Don't hold government 'hostage' over DACA Nielsen acknowledges Trump used 'tough language' in immigration meeting MORE (D-Vt.) was hoping his committee could mark up his bill Thursday. Leahy's bill, the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act, would extend three surveillance authorities until the end of 2013, and provide for increased oversight of U.S. intelligence gathering tools.

Specifically, the bill would allow the U.S. to continue "roving surveillance" of targets, collect business records and other tangible intelligence records, and surveillance of solo operators who are not tied to a specific terrorist group but may pose a threat to the United States.

But new Judiciary ranking member Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Five hurdles to a big DACA and border deal Grand jury indicts Maryland executive in Uranium One deal: report MORE (R-Iowa) introduced a bill Friday that permanently extend these authorities. Grassley, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.),  said temporary extensions and the threat of oversight would hinder U.S. intelligence agents.

"The threat of terrorism isn't going away so we must provide our agents with the tools they need to get the job done," Grassley said. "Given that terrorist threats, including those from self-radicalized individuals, continue to evolve, we must ensure that our law enforcement agents are not burdened with new restrictions on existing authorities."

Thursday, Leahy charged Republicans with politicizing the issue.

"We should not play politics with national security," Leahy said. He added that he has been conducting "aggressive oversight" of USA PATRIOT Act surveillance authorities since the original bill was passed in 2001.

But Leahy is also facing a challenge from within his own party. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Democrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration MORE (D-Calif.) has introduced her own bill that would extend the surveillance authorities until 2013, but would do so without the additional oversight language that Leahy prefers.

In Thursday's hearing, Feinstein indicated that there may not be enough time to consider Leahy's reforms.

All three bills have been introduced consecutively: Feinstein's is S. 289, Leahy's is S. 290, and Grassley's is S. 291. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.) on Friday morning objected to the second reading of these bills on the Senate floor, which puts them aside for now and allows for more time to decide how to proceed.


—This post was updated at 11:37 a.m.