Trump looms as wild card in Senate surveillance fight

Trump looms as wild card in Senate surveillance fight

President TrumpDonald TrumpSt. Louis lawyer who pointed gun at Black Lives Matter protesters considering Senate run Chauvin found guilty as nation exhales US says Iran negotiations are 'positive' 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 McConnellMcConnell vents over 'fake news' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Tensions rise as U.S. waits for Derek Chauvin verdict Trump looking 'beyond seriously' at 2024 run 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 PaulOn The Money: Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl | Senate confirms SEC chief Gensler to full five-year term | Left-leaning group raises concerns about SALT cap repeal Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl 15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban MORE (R-Ky.), who wants to make changes to the House bill, told reporters during a conference call. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Health Care: Johnson & Johnson pause seen as 'responsible' in poll | Women turning out more than men for COVID-19 vaccines Cornyn places hold on Biden Medicaid nominee Stacey Abrams: Parts of new Georgia voting law have racist intent 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 GrahamOvernight Energy: Biden reportedly will pledge to halve US emissions by 2030 | Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce Green New Deal resolution The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP draws line on taxes; nation braces for Chauvin verdict Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl 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 BarrGroups see new openings for digging up dirt on Trump Amy Coney Barrett receives million advance for book deal: report Garland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees MORE and House leadership in both parties. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOn The Money: Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl | Senate confirms SEC chief Gensler to full five-year term | Left-leaning group raises concerns about SALT cap repeal Senate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax 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 LeeBig Tech set to defend app stores in antitrust hearing Hillicon Valley: Apple approves Parler's return to App Store | White House scales back response to SolarWinds, Microsoft incidents | Pressure mounts on DHS over relationship with Clearview AI 15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban MORE (R-Utah) in March that he did not support the bill. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyWaters on Chauvin guilty verdict: 'I'm not celebrating, I'm relieved' House rejects GOP resolution to censure Waters READ: McCarthy's resolution censuring Maxine Waters 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 LeahySenate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl Senate Democrats call on Biden to restore oversight of semiautomatic and sniper rifle exports Bottom line MORE (D-Vt.) on appointing outside advisers, and one from Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSenate GOP faces post-Trump spending brawl 15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week MORE (R-Mont.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSchumer on 4/20: Bill coming to end federal marijuana prohibition GOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Democrats get good news from IRS 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 CarperEPA staff warned of factual, legal issues in Trump vehicle climate rollback, watchdog says This week: Democrats move on DC statehood OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds MORE (D-Del.) if he would vote for it, adding, “you’ll like it.” 


Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' Overnight Health Care: Johnson & Johnson pause seen as 'responsible' in poll | Women turning out more than men for COVID-19 vaccines 'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party 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.