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Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections

Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Thursday passed legislation reauthorizing three intelligence programs that lapsed earlier this year amid a GOP stalemate.

Senators voted 80-16 on the bill, which pairs the reauthorization of the USA Freedom Act provisions with some changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, also known as the FISA court.

The Senate changed the bill, which originally passed the House in March, as part of a two-day floor debate. Senators added more legal protections for some individuals targeted by the court.

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The proposal, which was spearheaded by Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRepublicans urge probe into Amazon government cloud-computing bid: report Allowing a racist slur against Tim Scott to trend confirms social media's activist bias Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap On The Money: Democratic scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan | Progressives push on student debt relief No designated survivor chosen for Biden's joint address to Congress MORE (D-Vt.), would increase the role of outside legal experts in FISA court hearings, including allowing them to weigh in on some FBI surveillance requests.

Because the Senate changed the bill, it will now have to be sent back to the House, which is expected to return on Friday. House Democratic leadership has not said if or when they will take up the amended bill. 

It also remains unclear if President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing MORE would sign the bill should it reach his desk. The president has railed about his campaign being “spied” upon and has sent mixed signals to lawmakers about if he supports the legislation.

Some supporters of the original House bill warned that letting the Senate make changes could open up the door to progressives and libertarian-minded Republicans in the House trying to reopen negotiations on the bill once it returns to the lower chamber.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham: GOP can't 'move forward without President Trump' House to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-S.C.) said that while Lee had “some good ideas,” sending the bill back to the House “could shut things down” on reauthorizing the intelligence programs. 

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

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, added that it was the preference of leadership to pass the House bill without changes.

"I think the leader's position is that it's much simpler to pick up the House passed bill, pass it, send it to the president," Thune said. 

The House bill would reauthorize two expired programs: One dealing with “lone wolf” suspects who 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.

While senators agreed to add the Lee-Leahy bill, they also rejected two other amendments: one from Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna MORE (R-Ky.) preventing FISA warrants from being used against Americans and one from Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) preventing law enforcement from obtaining internet browsing and search history without a warrant. 

The Senate’s vote comes amid growing concerns about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) after Inspector General Michael Horowitz found 17 inaccuracies and omissions in the warrant applications related to Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. 

An interim report on a broader FISA review that looked at 29 applications found issues with each of them.

The House has to pull its initial bill from a scheduled vote in the Judiciary Committee over pushback from progressives and libertarian-minded GOP lawmakers that it did not go far enough to address privacy concerns or legal protections for those targeted by the court.

Fourteen Democrats voted against the bill: Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package World passes 3 million coronavirus deaths MORE (Wis.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask On The Money: How demand is outstripping supply and hampering recovery | Montana pulls back jobless benefits | Yellen says higher rates may be necessary Senate Democrats announce B clean bus plan MORE (Ohio), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellWill Biden's NASA win the space race with China? Bill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA Biden looks to bolster long-term research and development MORE (Wash.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinAmerica's Jewish communities are under attack — Here are 3 things Congress can do Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction MORE (Ill.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico MORE (N.M.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoIf you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Senate tries to shake off graveyard status MORE (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyCivilian Climate Corps can help stem rural-urban divide Senate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Bipartisan Senate group calls for Biden to impose more sanctions on Myanmar junta A proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US MORE (Ore.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySchumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap House passes bill to combat gender pay gap MORE (Wash.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDemocrats face big headaches on Biden's T spending plan Democrats introduce bill to give hotels targeted relief Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (Hawaii), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAmericans for Prosperity launches campaign targeting six Democrats to oppose ending filibuster Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (Mont), Tom UdallTom UdallStudy: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling MORE (N.M.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenFree Speech Inc.: The Democratic Party finds a new but shaky faith in corporate free speech Debate over ICBMs: Will 'defund our defenses' be next? Manchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders MORE (Mass.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBad jobs report amplifies GOP cries to end 0 benefits boost Putting a price on privacy: Ending police data purchases Overnight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states MORE (Ore.). On the GOP side, Paul and Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBattle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers FDA unveils plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to country: 'Turning peril into possibility' MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, voted against the bill.

Paul railed against the bill from the Senate floor ahead of Thursday’s vote.

“The Patriot Act, in the end, is not patriotic. The Patriot Act makes an unholy and unconstitutional exchange of liberty for a false sense of security. And I, for one, will oppose its reauthorization,” he said, referring to the post-9/11 bill that predated the USA Freedom Act.