McConnell urges Senate to reject changes to House-passed surveillance bill

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged his colleagues on Thursday to support a House-passed bill that reauthorizes lapsed surveillance programs without the broader changes being pushed for by a bipartisan coalition of reform-minded lawmakers. 

McConnell, speaking from the floor, confirmed that the Senate will vote next week on the House bill, which passed that chamber in March on a 278-136 vote.  

“The House-passed legislation we’ll take up is not a blanket reauthorization of FISA. It’s a careful update designed to provide greater accountability for the ways these authorities are exercised,” McConnell said. 

“I hope the Senate will pass it next week, free of amendments that would jeopardize important tools that keep America safe,” McConnell added.  

Three provisions of the 2015 USA Freedom Act expired in March after Congress left town without passing a reauthorization through both chambers.  

The House passed its bill, which pairs a reauthorization of the intelligence programs with some changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts. The Senate passed a short-term extension that the House did not take up. 

The three expired sections of the USA Freedom Act are the “lone wolf” program, dealing with individuals potentially inspired by but not directly linked to a terrorist organization; “roving” wiretaps that let the government track an individual across multiple devices; and Section 215, which includes a controversial phone records collection program. 

The House bill reauthorized the lone wolf and roving wiretap provisions, while amending and reauthorizing Section 215, and included FISA reforms such as requiring the attorney general to sign off on warrant applications involving elected officials. 

“It will increase transparency in the FISA process and respond to the shameful abuses of 2016 while preserving the toolbox that professionals use to defend us,” McConnell added.  

But reform-minded lawmakers say it does not go far enough and are pushing for additional changes that, if included, would force the bill to go back to the House.  

Under a deal struck by Senate leadership, senators will vote on three amendments: One from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) preventing FISA warrants from being used against Americans, one from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on appointing outside advisers, and one from Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to prevent law enforcement from obtaining internet browsing and search history without a warrant. 

Each of the amendments are expected to need 60 votes, making it likely that they fall short of being added to the bill. McConnell, as part of the agreement, has the option of offering a competing amendment to each. 

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told The Hill on Wednesday that he hopes the House bill passes without changes, but stopped short of guaranteeing that each of the amendment attempts would fail.  

“I suspect that in the end, hopefully, the product will be the House bill,” he said.

Tags John Thune Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Patrick Leahy Rand Paul Ron Wyden Steve Daines

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