Overnight Defense: House votes to renew surveillance program | More drones, troops headed to Afghanistan | Former officers urge lawmakers to curb Trump's nuclear powers

Overnight Defense: House votes to renew surveillance program | More drones, troops headed to Afghanistan | Former officers urge lawmakers to curb Trump's nuclear powers
© Greg Nash

THE TOPLINE: In a victory for the Trump administration, the House on Thursday approved legislation to renew government surveillance powers while voting down new limits on how authorities can use the information that is collected.

But just a few hours before the vote, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE roiled the waters by sending out a tweet that appeared to contradict his own administration's opposition to the changes, which were offered by Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashWatchdog files Hatch Act complaint against Sanders for picture with Kanye in MAGA hat Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump MORE (R-Mich.). That amendment failed by a vote of 233-183.


After rejecting Amash's amendment, the House passed an underlying bill backed by members of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees that renewed the NSA's warrantless surveillance program with just a few small changes.

The bill, passed by a vote of 256-164, now heads to the Senate, which is expected to swiftly take up and pass the measure before the surveillance program expires on Jan. 19.

The Hill's Katie Bo Williams has more on the vote and what's next here.



In three hours, the House was set to vote on controversial legislation renewing the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program.

The White House was actively whipping votes on the bill, which would extend a program that senior officials say is critical to keeping America safe from terror plots. Getting the program renewed with as few changes as possible had been the intelligence community's No. 1 legislative priority for the past year.

Then, at 7:33 a.m., President Trump tweeted.

"'House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.' This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?" Trump tapped out.

Suddenly, Capitol Hill was thrown into confusion before what was already expected to be a tight vote.

After months of lobbying by the administration for a renewal of the surveillance program, it appeared that the president himself was throwing his weight behind an amendment to impose new privacy limitations on the government.

The Hill's Katie Bo Williams recaps the day here.


More on the surveillance vote...

--Comey urged reauthorization of FISA provision ahead of House vote

-- Pelosi asked Ryan to pull NSA surveillance bill after Trump tweets


PENTAGON TO SEND MORE DRONES, TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN: The Pentagon is planning to send more armed drones and roughly 1,000 new combat advisers to Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday

U.S. and military officials told the paper the move is meant to bolster the American military presence in Afghanistan in time for spring, when the traditional fighting season begins. 

As soon as February, the Pentagon will send members of an Army security-force assistance brigade from Fort Benning, Ga., to work as combat advisers to Afghan National Security Forces.

The larger fleet of drones, both armed and unarmed, will provide air support and will also be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

In addition, the Pentagon plans to add more helicopters, ground vehicles, artillery and other equipment. The Defense Department (DOD) is able to do so because of reduced combat operations in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Read more about the increase here.


STATE OFFICIAL: US MILITARY ROLE IN SYRIA POST-ISIS CENTERED ON IRAN: A State Department official on Thursday suggested the U.S. military's role in Syria post-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will be focused on Iranian activities.

David Satterfield, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, was responding to a question from Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' Pompeo: Saudis committed to 'accountability' over journalist's disappearance MORE (D-Conn.) about what function U.S. troops serve in Syria besides fighting ISIS. Satterfield and other U.S. officials have indicated the military will be staying in the country past the terrorist group's defeat.

"We are deeply concerned with the activities of Iran, with the ability of Iran to enhance those activities through a greater ability to move material into Syria," Satterfield said.

The Pentagon did not send a witness to Thursday's hearing, despite committee requests.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has the rest here.


FORMER LAUNCH OFFICERS URGE CONGRESS TO CURB TRUMP'S NUCLEAR POWER: More than a dozen former nuclear launch officers are calling on Congress to rein in President Trump's ability to launch nuclear weapons, saying they are more worried about Trump now than before he took office.

"In the final weeks of the presidential election, we sounded our alarm over Donald Trump's fitness to serve as commander-in-chief, with absolute authority over the nation's nuclear arsenal," the 17 former missileers wrote in an open letter to Congress on Thursday. "One year into the Trump presidency, our alarm has only intensified and we must raise our voices again.

"The president has had ample opportunity to educate and humble himself to the grave responsibilities of his office. Instead, he consistently shows himself to be easily baited, stubborn in his ignorance of world politics and diplomacy, and quick to brandish nuclear threats. The reality of this presidency is worse than we feared." 

The letter was organized by Global Zero, an international organization pushing for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

 Read more on that here.



-- The Hill: Retired colonel on military sexual assault: 'God bless Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep' for raising issue

-- The Hill: British think tank warns cyber risk to nuclear weapons 'relatively high' 

-- The Hill: Trump: I 'have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un'

-- The Washington Post: Pentagon investigating video that appears to show a service member opening fire on a civilian

-- Reuters: 'A mad scramble': How Trump tweet on Pakistan blindsided U.S. officials