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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 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) and 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.), 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 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 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 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.) 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 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 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 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.) 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 BaldwinInfrastructure, energy investments urgently needed to create U.S. jobs Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak MORE (Wis.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBrown says Biden's first moves as president should be COVID relief, voting rights Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE (Ohio), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellZuckerberg to express openness to Section 230 reform Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference MORE (Wash.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (Ill.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichBottom line Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Senate Democrats seek removal of controversial public lands head after nomination withdrawal MORE (N.M.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort FCC reaffirms order rolling back net neutrality regulations MORE (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court FCC reaffirms order rolling back net neutrality regulations Markey rips GOP for support of Amy Coney Barrett: Originalism 'just a fancy word for discrimination' MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyFCC reaffirms order rolling back net neutrality regulations Electric vehicles see state-level gains GOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation MORE (Ore.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas Government watchdog to investigate allegations of Trump interference at CDC, FDA MORE (Wash.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism MORE (Hawaii), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Green groups seek overturn of Colorado land plans after court decision ousting Pendley Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (Mont), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Judge tosses land management plans after ousting Pendley from role | Trump says he could out-raise Biden with calls to Wall Street, oil execs | Supreme Court to review Trump border wall funding, asylum policies OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Pendley says court decision ousting him from BLM has had 'no impact' | Court strikes down Obama-era rule targeting methane leaks from public lands drilling | Feds sued over no longer allowing polluters to pay for environmental projects  Pendley says court decision ousting him from BLM has had 'no impact' MORE (N.M.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Conservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort MORE (Mass.) 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 (Ore.). On the GOP side, Paul and Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrAs Trump downplayed the virus publicly, memo based on private briefings sparked stock sell-offs: NYT Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs 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.