Senate revives surveillance brawl

The Senate is set to revive a fight over a shadowy surveillance court, bringing to a head a months-long stalemate that resulted in the lapse of three intelligence programs. 

The looming debate, which will pit some of President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE’s biggest allies against one another, comes on the heels of growing questions about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court after the Justice Department inspector general found widespread errors as part of an interim report on warrant applications.

Leadership wants to pass a House-passed bill that pairs a reauthorization of the intelligence programs with some changes to the FISA process.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Teacher's union puts million behind ad demanding funding for schools preparing to reopen MORE (R-Ky.) will bring the bill to the floor this week and urged his colleagues to pass it “free of amendments that would jeopardize important tools that keep America safe.”

The House bill, which cleared that chamber in March in a 278-136 vote, 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 said from the Senate floor late last week. 

The House bill reauthorizes one program dealing with “roving” wiretaps, which track individuals across multiple devices, and a second on surveilling “lone wolf” suspects not connected to a known terrorist group.

It would also reauthorize Section 215, which allows the government to request “tangible things” such as documents relevant to a national security investigation but makes changes including ending a controversial call records program. The three programs expired in mid-March; the Senate passed a short-term extension, but it was not taken up by the House.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntState and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Clash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November MORE (R-Mo.), the No. 4 Senate Republican and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said he expected the House bill to pass without changes, which would send it directly to Trump’s desk. 

“I would think that we would be able to pass the House-passed bill,” he said. 


Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Trump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names MORE (R-D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, added, “I suspect that in the end, hopefully, the product will be the House bill.” 

But the Senate’s looming debate is filled with pockets of uncertainty.

It’s unclear if Trump will sign the House bill if it reaches his desk as currently drafted. Attorney General William BarrBill BarrOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Key impeachment witness retires | Duckworth presses for information | Subpanel advances defense measure | Democrats press for end to military transgender ban DOJ to resume executions next week for first time in 15 years Tim Scott says he's talking with House Democrats about reviving police reform bill MORE supports the House bill, but Trump told Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers to address alarming spike in coronavirus cases Senate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections MORE (R-Utah), an opponent of the House bill, earlier this year that he didn’t, according to a spokesman for the GOP senator.

Trump has been tight-lipped about the bill since then as the country shifted its focus to the coronavirus. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Rand Paul's exchange with Fauci was exactly what America needed MORE (R-Ky.) added that while he isn’t sure what the president will do, he is urging him to veto the House bill if it reaches his desk without changes. 

“We'll see what happens. But I think it's an important debate to have, and I will encourage the president to veto it if it still allows Americans to be abused in FISA court,” he said. 

Several senators say they are still undecided on the bill, and both leadership and supporters of additional reforms acknowledge the final vote could be close. 

Thune, asked if he expected each of the amendments would fail, said that “you never know until you have the votes,” quipping that the House bill will pass without changes “if things go well.” 

Lee, who is offering one of the amendments, predicted that the margin on the House bill would depend on the outcome of the amendment fight. 

“If none of the amendments are adopted, I think it gets tougher to pass it,” he said. 

Under a deal struck by leadership, when the Senate takes up the House bill, it will also vote on an amendment from Lee and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyData shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse Overnight Defense: Navy won't reinstate fired captain | Dems probe use of federal officers in DC | Air Force appoints woman as top noncommissioned officer MORE (D-Vt.), a second from Paul, and a third from Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (R-Mont.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits On The Money: Trump administration releases PPP loan data | Congress gears up for battle over expiring unemployment benefits | McConnell opens door to direct payments in next coronavirus bill Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates MORE (D-Ore.), each of which adds more reforms to either the FISA court or the surveillance programs beyond what was included in the House bill. 

The amendment from Paul would prevent FISA warrants from being used against Americans, the Lee-Leahy proposal would strengthen the role of outside advisers, and the Daines-Wyden amendment would prevent law enforcement from obtaining internet browsing and search data history. 


The House bill made some reforms to the FISA court amid pressure from a coalition of libertarian-minded Republicans and progressives in the House, which were melded with growing GOP concerns about the implications of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s finding of errors within the warrant applications related to former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

The reforms include requiring the attorney general to sign off on FISA warrant applications involving elected officials.

Several senators say they are open to further changes and remain undecided on if they would support the House bill without additional reforms. Because each of the amendments is expected to need 60 votes, they are likely to fail. 

“I’m going to support Mike Lee’s amendment. ... If it doesn’t pass, if we don’t have an amended version, I’m still undecided,” Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGOP skeptical of polling on Trump Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law Cruz urges Trump to support Israeli annexation MORE (R-N.D.) told The Hill. 

Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordTulsa to resume search for race massacre mass graves next week GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Trump calls for Congress to take action against 'lowlifes' who burn American flag MORE (R-Okla.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) and Mike BraunMichael BraunClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal MORE (R-Ind.) added that they were also undecided on supporting the House bill. 

“I’ll be voting for both of the Lee and the Paul amendments,” Braun said, adding that he would have to “think about” whether he will vote for the House bill without them. 


Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources MORE (D-Ill.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal MORE (D-Conn.) also indicated they are undecided.

“There are some amendments that have been offered and that will decide my final vote,” Durbin said, indicating that he is supportive of the Lee-Leahy proposal. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (R-S.C.) is running his own investigation into the FISA process, which supporters of the House bill argue could be a forum for making broader changes to the surveillance court separate from next week’s vote.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad Chamber of Commerce endorses Cornyn for reelection George Floyd and the upcoming Texas Democratic Senate runoff MORE (R-Texas), who is a member of Graham’s committee, said he would support the House bill and that additional changes to the FISA process should go through "regular order."

Republicans have grown increasingly alarmed about the FISA process in the wake of Horowitz’s finding of errors in the FBI’s handling of warrant applications. Graham has already started holding closed-door depositions with lower-level officials and has said he wants to work his way up to higher-profile targets such as former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Bolton book sells 780,000 copies in first week, set to surpass 1M copies printed The Seila Law case: Liberty and political firing MORE and former Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinSupreme Court to hear dispute over Democrats' access to Mueller materials Republicans release newly declassified intelligence document on FBI source Steele GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE

Kennedy, a member of Graham’s committee, said he was undecided on the House bill. 


“I’m looking hard at the amendments. I mean I think we ought to renew the statue, but I’m not convinced we ought to renew the statue without making some necessary changes,” he said.

Kennedy stressed that he wasn’t criticizing Graham but said he had heard for years around Washington that “we’re going to fix the FBI problem.” 

“And we’ve never done it,” he said. “And you don’t get that many opportunities around here to make changes, and this is an opportunity to try to fix it.”