McConnell files short-term NSA bill

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMcConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection MORE (R-Ky.) has opened the door to a short-term reauthorization of intelligence powers, increasing the stakes in a congressional battle over the Patriot Act.

The legislation filed on Thursday evening would renew expiring portions of the Patriot Act for two months, to give lawmakers extra time to decide whether to rein in the controversial surveillance practices of the National Security Agency (NSA).

That’s sure to draw the ire of NSA reformers, who have rejected even the prospect of a short-term renewal of the legal provisions, which are otherwise set to expire at the end of the month.

McConnell started the fast-track process to bypass committee “to make it available,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said in an email.

He “[d]idn’t start proceedings on it though.”

With just days to go until the deadline, senior GOP lawmakers have begun discussion about the potential for a short-term bill to eliminate the prospect of the NSA losing any of its powers.

“I don’t know how we have the kind of fulsome debate that is going to be required on NSA without passing a temporary extension,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynClinton email headache is about to get worse Overnight Tech: House GOP launches probe into phone, internet subsidies Senators hope for deal soon on mental health bill MORE (Texas), McConnell’s deputy and the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters on Thursday. In addition to the Patriot Act measure, lawmakers also need to renew highway funding and finalize trade legislation.

“There’s a range of views” on the NSA, Cornyn added. “I don’t know how you get all that done plus highways before we break.”

The new bill would extend the current June 1 Patriot Act deadline to the end of July.

It’s unclear whether the legislation could get through the Senate, given the opposition to a “clean” reauthorization from Democrats as well as a handful of Republicans, including Sens. Rand PaulRand PaulOvernight Energy: Trump outlines 'America First' energy plan in North Dakota Overnight Regulation: GOP slams new Obama education rules Paul blocks chemical safety bill in Senate MORE (R-Ky.), Ted CruzTed CruzParty chairs see reversal of fortune McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Cruz holds back support for Trump with eye on abortion MORE (R-Texas), Mike LeeMike LeeOvernight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise MORE (R-Utah) and others.

The House also appears unlikely to take up a short-term bill, after lawmakers on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a reform bill called the USA Freedom Act.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers behind the House bill said on Thursday that they “will not agree to any extension of the NSA’s bulk collection program.”

Reformers who have been vehemently opposed to McConnell’s plan to extend the NSA program without change have long been suspicious that he intends to water down the negotiated USA Freedom Act. In addition to the bipartisan House support, the bill has the backing of the White House, intelligence leaders, tech companies and many privacy groups.

McConnell’s new short-term reauthorization “is a signal of intent to modify the bill, almost certainly by watering it down,” Harley Geiger, a supporter of reform and advocacy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in an email. “Yet there is no fat to cut in this bill in terms of its prohibition on bulk collection.”

“We urge both Senate and House to reject an extension of any length and decisively end this unlawful, ineffective, and invasive mass surveillance,” he added.

— This story was updated at 7:16 p.m.