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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 LeeThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Republicans wrestle over removing Trump MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority Pompeo's flurry of foreign policy moves hampers Biden start 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 TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism 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 GrahamTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February 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 ThuneNRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers Biden steps into debt fight on Capitol Hill McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism 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 PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism 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 BaldwinK Street navigates virtual inauguration week Senate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 MORE (Wis.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over Capitol attack Facebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs MORE (Ohio), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenators vet Buttigieg to run Transportation Department Hillicon Valley: Texas, other states bring antitrust lawsuit against Google | Krebs emphasizes security of the election as senators butt heads | Twitter cracks down on coronavirus vaccine misinformation Senators press federal agencies for more information on Russian cyberattack MORE (Wash.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinOvernight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (Ill.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichBiden Intel chief nominee Avril Haines pledges public report on QAnon threat Overnight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home Space Command to be located in Alabama MORE (N.M.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over Capitol attack Democratic senator raises concerns about inauguration security Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation MORE (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyDemocrats shoot down McConnell's filibuster gambit Biden signs executive order invoking 2-year lobbying ban for appointees Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyBiden signs executive order invoking 2-year lobbying ban for appointees K Street navigates virtual inauguration week Senate Democrats make democracy reform first bill of new majority MORE (Ore.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHawley pens op-ed to defend decision to object to electoral votes amid pushback Demolition at the Labor Department, too Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure MORE (Wash.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzFor platform regulation Congress should use a European cheat sheet Senate Democrats rebuke GOP colleagues who say they'll oppose Electoral College results 11 Senate Republicans say they will oppose Electoral College results Wednesday MORE (Hawaii), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence Biden VA pick faces 'steep learning curve' at massive agency MORE (Mont), Tom UdallTom UdallSenate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes We can achieve our democratic ideals now by passing the For the People Act MORE (N.M.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (Mass.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over Capitol attack With a new president and a new Congress, it's time for Medicare drug price negotiation The Hill's Morning Report - President Biden, Vice President Harris begin work today MORE (Ore.). On the GOP side, Paul and Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOn The Money: Biden extends eviction moratorium, student loan forbearance | Stocks hit record highs on Biden's first day as president | Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr The Hill's Morning Report - President Biden, Vice President Harris begin work today Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges 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.