Trump looms as wild card in Senate surveillance fight

Trump looms as wild card in Senate surveillance fight

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 is looming as a wild card in the Senate’s fight over reauthorizing three lapsed surveillance programs. 

Trump, who has repeatedly lashed out that his 2016 campaign was “spied” upon, has not said if he will sign the House-passed bill, which would pair reauthorization of the three lapsed parts of the USA Freedom Act with some reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. 

The Senate is expected to vote on a handful of amendments to the House bill as soon as Wednesday, with 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.) and his allies hoping to prevent additional changes.


But GOP senators acknowledge that they are in the dark about whether Trump would support the House bill. 

“Whether or not he’ll actually get involved … that’s the real question on this, and I don’t know how it will come down,” 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.), who wants to make changes to the House bill, told reporters during a conference call. 

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), an adviser to McConnell and a member of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, said he had not heard what Trump will do. 

“I have not heard what the president’s intentions are. I know that the House version that we are voting on … has been something negotiated with the Justice Department,” Cornyn said. 

Sen. 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.), a close ally of Trump’s, said he also didn’t know if Trump would support it. 

“It would be very helpful” if Trump took a position, Graham added. 


The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether Trump would sign the bill if it were to reach his desk in its current form, or whether he would support any of the amendments expected to get a vote on the Senate floor. 

The Senate’s debate comes at a politically precarious moment: Trump has publicly fumed over the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The Justice Department last week decided to drop its case against Flynn.  

Trump’s also alleged that former President Obama committed wrongdoing, though he’s declined to say what he means, calling it “Obamagate.” 

The House bill would reauthorize two expired programs: One dealing with “lone wolf” suspects that are not tied to any known terrorist organization and another on “roving” wiretaps that allow the federal government to track a suspect across multiple devices. 

The House bill also reauthorizes 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 phone surveillance program. 

And it also makes some changes to the FISA process, including requiring the attorney general to sign off on applications tied to an elected official. 

It’s a product of negotiations between 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 and House leadership in both parties. 

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 (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, noted Barr’s involvement as a sign that Trump would hopefully sign the bill. 

“I’m not sure I’ve seen any kind of a statement to that effect. [But] my expectation is that yes, he would sign it,” Thune said. 

The fight over surveillance reforms puts Trump in the middle of some of his closest allies, with Paul on one side and Graham and McConnell on the other. Barr also supports the House bill, though that doesn’t necessarily guarantee Trump’s support. 

The attorney general previously urged senators to pass a “clean” extension of the three intelligence programs only for Trump to tell GOP lawmakers during a closed-door meeting that he would not extend the surveillance programs without FISA reforms.

Trump has sent mixed signals about whether he would back the House agreement. He 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) in March that he did not support the bill. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? McCarthy to offer bill withholding funds from states that don't protect statues McCarthy calls on Pelosi to condemn 'mob violence' after toppling of St. Junipero Serra statue MORE (R-Calif.) contradicted that, telling CNN that “the president will sign it. He told me he will.”

Adding to the confusion, Doug Stafford, a strategist for Paul, replied on Twitter to McCarthy’s prediction, saying “that’s funny. That’s not what I heard.”

If the House bill passes the Senate as is, Paul said on Tuesday that he will encourage Trump to veto it. 

“You know I’ll encourage him publicly to veto it if they don’t fix it,” Paul said. “It’s a mistake just to do some little weak-sauce stuff around the corners.” 

As part of a deal struck by leadership, the Senate will vote on three potential amendments to the House-passed bill: One from Paul preventing FISA warrants from being used against Americans, one 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.) on appointing outside advisers, and one 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.) to prevent law enforcement from obtaining internet browsing and search history without a warrant. 

Each of the amendments would need 60 votes to get added to the bill. If the Senate changes the bill it will have to bounce back to the House. 

A spokesman for Lee said they expect to have 60 votes for their amendment. Lee was spotted lobbying his colleagues around the Capitol on Tuesday, including asking Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperHillicon Valley: Facebook to label 'newsworthy' posts that violate policies | Unilever to pull ads from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram | FEC commissioner steps down Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases MORE (D-Del.) if he would vote for it, adding, “you’ll like it.” 


Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerA renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Trump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? MORE (D-N.Y.) declined to say how the surveillance floor fight will play out but noted that “there’s a lot of support for the amendments” among Democrats. 

Libertarian-minded Republicans and progressives have warned for years that they did not believe the court provided enough transparency about its activities or protections for targeted Americans. But those concerns found a broader audience after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found 17 inaccuracies and omissions in the warrant applications regarding former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. 

Several Republicans have also indicated that they are undecided on the House bill, adding an extra layer of uncertainty into the debate. But Graham and other GOP senators are pointing to the investigation in the Judiciary Committee as a potential outlet for calls for broader reforms. 

Graham noted that Lee had “some good ideas,” but said sending the bill back to the House “could shut things down” on reauthorizing the intelligence programs. 

“I want to promise Sen. Lee and everybody else, this will not be the last word on FISA reform,” he said.