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 LeeSchumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary Juan Williams: The GOP is an anti-America party Manchin faces pressure from Gillibrand, other colleagues on paid family leave MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyFormer US attorney considering Senate run in Vermont as Republican The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sen. Kaine, drivers stranded in I-95 backup Senate delays vote as DC hit by snowstorm 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 TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' 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 GrahamKyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks 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. 

“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 ThuneSinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm Democrats: Don't reject GOP offer to fix electoral count law 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.

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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 PaulRand Paul cancels DirecTV subscription after it drops OAN Trump slams Biden, voices unsubstantiated election fraud claims at first rally of 2022 Overnight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks 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 BaldwinOvernight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks Dems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Senate delays vote as DC hit by snowstorm MORE (Wis.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownDemocrats see good chance of Garland prosecuting Trump On the Money — Student borrowers stare down rising prices Biden selects Sarah Bloom Raskin, two others for Fed board MORE (Ohio), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellUS lawmakers weigh new COVID-19 stimulus funding for businesses Senate whistleblower report alleges oversight problems with aerospace industry safety On The Money — Senate risks Trump's ire with debt ceiling deal MORE (Wash.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenate Democrats eye talking filibuster Clyburn says he 'wholeheartedly' endorses Biden's voting rights remarks GOP senator knocks Biden for 'spreading things that are untrue' in voting rights speech MORE (Ill.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDefense bill creates new office to study UFOs This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Degrees not debt will grow the economy MORE (N.M.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDems worry they'll be boxed out without changes to filibuster, voting rules  Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two Senate Judiciary Committee to debate key antitrust bill MORE (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden's FDA nominee advances through key Senate committee Overnight Energy & Environment — Manchin raises hopes on climate spending Warren, Democrats ask federal government to resume tracking breakthrough cases MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform Lawmakers seek 'assurances' Olympic uniforms not linked to forced labor Watch Live: Schumer, Senate Democrats hold press conference MORE (Ore.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCDC leader faces precarious political moment Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (Wash.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThe Hill's 12:30 Report: More of Biden's agenda teeters on collapse The Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin Senate to take up voting rights bill Tuesday, missing Schumer deadline MORE (Hawaii), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats' filibuster gambit unravels Biden: 'I don't know whether we can get this done' Biden to huddle with Senate Democrats as voting bill on brink of defeat MORE (Mont), Tom UdallTom UdallCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees MORE (N.M.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren dodges on whether Sinema, Manchin should be challenged in primaries Former aide says she felt 'abandoned' by Democrats who advanced Garcetti nomination as ambassador to India The Memo: 2024 chatter reveals Democratic nervousness MORE (Mass.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Manchin told White House he would back version of billionaire tax: report Democrats look to scale back Biden bill to get it passed MORE (Ore.). On the GOP side, Paul and Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrPublic health expert: Biden administration needs to have agencies on the 'same page' about COVID Top Biden adviser expresses support for ban on congressional stock trades Biden's FDA nominee advances through key Senate committee 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.