The White House refused to rule out a short-term extension of the Patriot Act on Thursday, even as it pressured the Senate to pass legislation approved by the House that would reform the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest repeatedly declined to address the president's stance on a short-term extension, but said that it's “unclear” whether that would have the votes to pass through Congress. 


“We believe [the USA Freedom Act] is the best path forward, both as a practical matter, in terms of getting this done before the deadline, but also in a way that best reflects the need to give our law enforcement authorities and national security authorities the tools that they need to keep us safe while also enhancing the basic privacy and civil liberty protections that the American people deserve,” Earnest said at Thursday's daily briefing. 

The House passed the USA Freedom Act last week with an overwhelming 338-88 margin. But that legislation faces no certain course in the Senate, where Republican senators are ensnared in a battle over the future of controversial NSA surveillance programs authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Earnest added that he's not sure if President Obama has made personal calls to lawmakers pushing the bill. But senior members of the national security team have been talking to lawmakers about the need to extend key provisions of the Patriot Act, set to expire at the end of the month, while implementing privacy safeguards. 

He warned that a stalemate that shuttered pivotal national security programs for even a few days would be “irresponsible.” 

The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, includes the Section 215 provision that the government has since used to justify warrantless collection of phone data.

The USA Freedom Act restricts that program but would authorize most of remaining portions of the Patriot Act and is supported by the vast majority of Democrats and a handful of Republicans. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (R-Ky.) and a group of other senators want a "clean" extension of the Patriot Act with no limitations. The Senate is slated to vote on those bills on Saturday. 

Without congressional action, Section 215 and other provisions will expire on June 1, ending the programs indefinitely.