© Greg Nash
Key senators signaled on Tuesday that they would support a short-term extension of soon-to-expire surveillance programs if lawmakers are not able to break the stalemate by the mid-March deadline.Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDemocratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (R-N.C.) said he would support a short-term extension "if that's all you get."
Congress has until March 15 to extend three provisions of the USA Freedom Act dealing with lone wolf surveillance, roving wiretaps and a controversial phone records program that allows the government to request phone metadata.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) said that his "preference" would be to provide some sort of extension for the expiring authorities if Congress isn't able to get a larger agreement.
"My own preference is to extend these three or four expiring authorities ... but there are differences among my members and among the Democrats on the way forward. Whether we can resolve those and pass new legislation is unclear. If we're unable to resolve our differences my preference would be for another extension," McConnell said.
Republicans are deeply divided over whether to use the reauthorization of expiring provisions in the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 law that overhauled intelligence programs, to also force broader changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
Some of President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE's biggest allies on Capitol Hill want to muscle through FISA reforms now. Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMeadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report Why it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE is supporting a "clean" reauthorization.
Trump is expected to meet with a group of GOP lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday to see if there is a path toward a deal.
Meanwhile, House Democrats had to pull their own bill in the Judiciary Committee last week after Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit Biden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally MORE (D-Calif.) threatened to force votes on several FISA-related amendments.
House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi: Democrats within striking distance of deal Powerful Democrats push back on one-year extension of child tax credit The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Democrats optimistic after Biden meetings MORE (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday that negotiations are ongoing but the closer they get to the deadline the more likely a short-term extension becomes.
If lawmakers are forced to do a short-term extension, it's unclear how long that stopgap bill would be. They included a 90-day extension in a government funding bill that passed late last year, setting up the March 15 deadline.
Leadership would also have to decide whether or not to pass the extension as a standalone or fold it into other things. The only bill that is expected to pass both chambers by the deadline is a spending bill to combat the coronavirus.
But House leadership, the White House and Senate Democrats have warned against bogging down the coronavirus legislation with unrelated issues.
Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin: Negotiators to miss Friday target for deal on reconciliation bill Democrats look for plan B on filibuster The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said he thought a standalone short-term bill could pass the Senate.
"We can do temporary fixes, if that's the answer. If it's a matter of a few months," Durbin said.