Trump looms as wild card in Senate surveillance fight

Trump looms as wild card in Senate surveillance fight

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven 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 McConnellBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Trump blasts Obama speech for Biden as 'fake' after Obama hits Trump's tax payments White House hoping for COVID-19 relief deal 'within weeks': spokeswoman 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 PaulRand Paul rips 'leftwing media' for focusing on COVID-19 cases: 'Mortality rates are plummeting' Rand Paul suggests restaurants should hire COVID-19 survivors as servers during pandemic Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Ky.), who wants to make changes to the House bill, told reporters during a conference call. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden pushes into Trump territory Cruz: Hunter Biden attacks don't move 'a single voter' Bloomberg spending millions on Biden push in Texas, Ohio 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 GrahamNew Lincoln Project ad goes after Lindsey Graham: 'A political parasite' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day Biden's polling lead over Trump looks more comfortable than Clinton's 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 BarrPolice accountability board concludes that Seattle police officers used excessive force during encounters with protesters Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money MORE and House leadership in both parties. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneEnsuring more Americans have access to 5G technology Pence won't preside over Barrett's final confirmation vote Gaffes put spotlight on Meadows at tough time for Trump 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 LeeWhite House to host swearing-in event for Barrett on Monday night Pence adviser Marty Obst tests positive for COVID-19 Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Utah) in March that he did not support the bill. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyRocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire Trump is out of touch with Republican voters on climate change The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight 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 LeahySchumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-Vt.) on appointing outside advisers, and one from Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesDemocrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll Poll shows statistical tie in Montana Senate race Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Mont.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing House Democrats slam FCC chairman over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump 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 CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities | Montana asks court to throw out major public lands decisions after ousting BLM director | It's unknown if fee reductions given to oil producers prevented shutdowns Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities Energy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress MORE (D-Del.) if he would vote for it, adding, “you’ll like it.” 


Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Graham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Lewandowski: Trump 'wants to see every Republican reelected regardless of ... if they break with the president' 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.