Paul, Lee urging Trump to kill House FISA deal

Greg Nash

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) are working to kill a House deal to reauthorize expiring intelligence programs and reform the surveillance court, throwing up an eleventh hour roadblock to the agreement.

The two libertarian-minded Republicans, who are close allies of President Trump’s, are urging Trump to veto the House agreement, which pairs a reauthorization of expiring intelligence programs with broader changes to the court associated with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

“The president I think really would like to see real reform, and I think the open question is whether or not he’ll take what [Attorney General William] Barr’s giving him. So we’re letting the president know that we think it’s weak sauce, that it doesn’t fix the problem,” Paul told reporters.

Asked if he thought he could convince Trump to oppose the House agreement — which is backed by leadership in both parties as well Trump allies like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — Paul added: “That would change things, but I don’t know. … But we will try.”

Lee is also publicly and privately urging Trump to veto the House bill, if it were to reach his desk. The House is expected to pass the bill later Wednesday, setting up a vote in the Senate as soon as Thursday.

“The House FISA deal doesn’t fix what’s wrong with FISA. It would not have stopped the spying that occurred against @realDonaldTrump. I will do everything I can to oppose it in the Senate. If it passes, @realDonaldTrump should veto it,” Lee tweeted.

A spokesman confirmed that he had also spoken with Trump about the House bill and urged him to veto it.

“Sen. Lee has communicated to the president that he does not believe the Nadler bill is an adequate response to FBI FISA malfeasance,” Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, told The Hill.

Asked whether Trump was considering a veto, one White House official said the president is interested in significant FISA reforms but is “carefully listening” to views of all Republicans as the legislation moves to the House and Senate. 

“There is a lot of interest in the significant reform that conservatives drove to completion to address the abuses of FISA against him and other innocent members of the 2016 campaign,” the official said. 

Congress has until Sunday night to reauthorize three expiring provisions in the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 law that overhauled the nation’s intelligence programs. Those provisions deal with “roving” wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance and a controversial records program.

With the House expected to vote Wednesday on the bill, Paul and Lee could push the Senate’s debate of the bill up against the deadline.

Without a deal they could delay an initial procedural vote until Saturday, at earliest. The Senate would still face up to an additional 30 hours of debate over the bill, putting the chamber close to the expiration deadline. 

Lee’s spokesman said the Utah senator was undecided on whether or not he will seek to filibuster the House deal. Pressed if he would require McConnell to file cloture, a procedural move that eats up days of floor time, or run out the debate clock, Paul replied: “We’ll see.”

Progressives and libertarian-minded senators have warned for years that they do not believe the FISA court does enough to provide transparency or privacy protections for individuals targeted for surveillance.

Those concerns found purchase with more Republicans after Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz said he found 17 significant inaccuracies and omissions in the FISA warrant applications targeting Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

In addition to trying to get Trump to veto the bill, should it reach his desk, Paul also wants an amendment vote on the bill once it is on the Senate floor.

Paul wants to get language included in the bill that would block FISA warrants from being used against American citizens and to block information gathered under the FISA court from being used against Americans in domestic court.

“I think this so-called FISA reform does a disservice to the president. I think nothing it will prevent this from happening again … to another president,” Paul said.

GOP senators acknowledged on Wednesday that Paul, Lee and their allies could delay a final Senate vote or — depending on how McConnell tries to bring up the legislation — even force a temporary lapse. 

It’s familiar position for the Senate. Paul and his allies forced a temporary lapse of Patriot Act provisions in 2015.

“I think there’s a possibility that without cooperation this could lapse for a few days,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Asked if he thought there would be cooperation given Paul and Lee’s opposition, he said, “Exactly. I am not optimistic that there will be full cooperation.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) indicated that if the bill passes the House it would be taken up by Senate Republicans ahead of the deadline.

“I would hope that they can register that opposition in different ways. Clearly, I think, if it comes over with a big vote from the House, it will have broad support here, so even if they filibuster it, in the end I don’t think that position would be a prevailing position. So the question is you know whether or not they want to use procedural tactics to slow it down or delay it,” Thune added.

Asked about Paul’s push for an amendment vote, he added: “I think a lot of it will depend on if whether or not there’s cooperation among our members and a process that gets us to a result. If that’s true, if instead of dragging it out, an amendment might satisfy that itch.”

Congress has struggled for months to come up with an agreement on the intelligence programs. They included a 90-day extension in a government funding bill late last year. No Senate committee has voted on an alternative bill to the House legislation, leaving lawmakers with few other options than the House bill, short of trying to jam through a short-term extension.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, warned that the House bill is the only thing that could move before the Sunday night deadline.

“If we don’t do it now, it won’t get done until we get back” from the recess,  Rubio said.

Asked what the Plan B was to the House bill, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the committee, replied: “It expires.”

Pressed if he was saying there was not a back up plan, he added: “Nope.”

Morgan Chalfant contributed.

Tags Donald Trump Jim Jordan John Thune Marco Rubio Mike Lee Rand Paul Richard Burr Roy Blunt

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