Floor crunch could spike cyber bill

Francis Rivera

Senators are wary about Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMcConnell: Trump needs to 'catch up fast' on fundraising McConnell dodges on whether Trump is qualified to be president Sunday shows preview: Next steps after Trump upheaval MORE’s plan to pivot quickly to a stalled cybersecurity bill next week in the waning days before the upper chamber’s August recess.

Immediately after the Kentucky Republican revealed his intent to bring up the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) — intended to boost the public-private sharing of cyber threat data — both supporters and opponents of the bill questioned the strategy.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinMeet the man who sparked the Democratic revolt on guns Post Orlando, hawks make a power play Ryan: No plans to vote on Democratic gun bills after sit-in MORE (D-Calif.), the bill’s co-sponsor, told The Hill. “I’d obviously like to get it done. We’re working with people. Whether it can get done in a short floor time or not, I don’t know.”

For months, CISA has been mired in an ongoing skirmish over digital privacy, which could result in a bruising debate when the bill does hit the floor.

“It’d be good if it came up. I don’t know if we have time to finish it,” Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA This week: Senate showdown over gun control Dems push vulnerable GOP senators on gun control MORE (D-N.Y.), a cyber bill backer and the third-ranking Democrat, told The Hill. “It would be good to start it. The question is, do a lot of the Republicans add totally extraneous amendments? Are they going to try to turn cyber into something else?”

Privacy and civil liberties advocates are worried the bill would create another venue for the government’s intelligence arm to collect sensitive data on Americans only months after Congress voted to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers.

But industry groups, many lawmakers and national security experts insist a bolstered public-private data exchange is necessary to better understand and thwart vicious cyber threats. Inaction will leave government and commercial networks exposed to increasingly dangerous hackers, they say.

These backers believe existing CISA provisions already guarantee that personal information will be removed before data is shared with the intelligence community. 

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senate heads toward internet surveillance fight MORE (D-Vt.), a vocal opponent of the bill as written, accused McConnell of trying to evade privacy advocates’ concerns.

“If the majority leader is serious about improving our nation’s cybersecurity, he will listen to Sen. Feinstein and others who have called for a meaningful amendment process,” Leahy said in a statement. “If he wants yet another political stunt, he will try to jam this bill through the Senate just days before the August recess. That is not the responsible way to legislate about our nation’s cybersecurity.”

Leahy and Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenRepublican chairman: Our tax reform plan fits with Trump's vision Post Orlando, hawks make a power play Democrats seize spotlight with sit-in on guns MORE (D-Ore.) are leading an expanding caucus within the Senate that is trying to significantly edit the bill.

They say the bill does more to protect the privacy of companies than it does the privacy of individuals.

CISA shields companies from legal liability when sharing their cyber threat data with the government. If companies are going to be offered this protection, Wyden argued, there should be stricter requirements for firms to strip personal information before handing data over to the government.

“In effect, companies could dump large quantities of their data to the government after only a cursory review,” Wyden told reporters during a Thursday conference call.

Because of this opposition — expected from both the far left and far right — a protracted floor debate is expected as senators look to stuff the legislation with add-ons.

“I just want to make sure that individual privacy is maintained, that we follow the Constitution as we go along,” Sen. Dean HellerDean HellerGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Long past time to fix evidence-sharing across borders Obama's great internet giveaway MORE (R-Nev.) told The Hill. “There's a few of us that feel that way and it’s probably pretty easy to figure out which few it is.”

In June, Heller and Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump: Cruz, Kasich shouldn't speak at convention without endorsement Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open O'Malley gives Trump a nickname: 'Chicken Donald' MORE (R-Texas), Rand PaulRand PaulRepublicans question Trump's trip to Scotland Hate TV customer service? So does your senator Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers MORE (R-Ky.) and Mike LeeMike LeeWaterways bill eyed as solution for Flint No reason why women shouldn't be drafted Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers MORE (R-Utah) joined Democrats to vote against attaching the cyber bill’s language to a recent defense authorization bill. The maneuver would have prohibited lawmakers from offering amendments to the CISA text.

“I think a bill needs to happen, I do, but I just want to make sure we don’t go too far,” Heller said.

Both Heller’s GOP group and numerous Democrats are vying to propose their own amendments, a process sure to clog floor time.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerDrone use growing in surprising ways Overnight Cybersecurity: Pentagon cyber operations in the spotlight Lawmakers sound alarm over decaying Memorial Bridge MORE (D-Va.), a supporter of moving swiftly on a cyber bill, nonetheless told The Hill “we need amendments” and that he would suggest “a series” of his own.

Leahy said he is angling to put forward several privacy-focused alterations.

“There’s a lot of improvements that have to be made,” he told reporters.

Schumer indicated that Democrats would be open to an across-the-aisle deal that could speed the process.

“We will offer the Republicans an agreement to a certain number of amendments, all relative to the bill,” he said.

But since CISA opposition doesn’t split evenly along party lines, such a deal may be difficult to strike.

“I think what’s going to be holding up the bill is their side,” Schumer added. “The Ted Cruzs and others of the world who want amendments unrelated the bill and won't let it go forward.”