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Senate rejects NSA amendments

Senate rejects NSA amendments
© Greg Nash

The Senate has rejected all three controversial amendments from Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJuan Williams: Trump’s policies on race are more important than his rhetoric It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it Trump makes new overtures to Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) to legislation reforming the National Security Agency (NSA), edging closer to sending the bill to President Obama's desk.

The first amendment from McConnell, rejected in a 42-56 vote, would have changed the structure of a new expert panel created by the USA Freedom Act to weigh in on some matters before the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees spying matters.

The second amendment, rejected in a 44-54 vote, would have extended the transition time for the NSA to end its phone records program from six months to a year. While agency officials had maintained that six months was enough time to transition to a new system, some lawmakers had grown concerned that they could be left short-sighted.   

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The final amendment, which went down 43-56, would have imposed new requirements on phone companies and had the director of national intelligence affirmatively certify that the government would not lose any critical information by giving up its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

All three of McConnell’s tweaks to the USA Freedom Act were described by opponents as “poison pills” that threatened to sink the entire bill.

Lawmakers in the House have rejected the notion that the bill should be changed. It was approved by the House in a sweeping 338-88 vote last month.

But McConnell, who had previously opposed the House bill, was adamant that it should be changed. 

"We were not simply going to just roll over and accept the House bill,” the Kentucky GOP leader said on Tuesday, as his chamber hurtled towards a vote on the USA Freedom Act. “You would think it is the Ten Commandments.

“There are a number of us who feel very strongly that this is a significant weakening of the tools that were put in place in the wake of 9/11 to protect the country,” McConnell added.

Both the White House and bipartisan House lawmakers have urged McConnell to back down, expecting the House to balk at his changes  

"We’ve seen Republicans in the United States Senate already play far too many games with this legislation,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Tuesday.

“It’s time for the game-playing to come to an end."

If any are accepted, it would take "at least a week longer to get all of this done,” Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) told reporters. Democrats, he indicated, would largely hold firm in opposing the amendments, which are scheduled for a vote later on Tuesday afternoon.

Jordain Carney and Jordan Fabian contributed 

This story was last updated at 3:51 p.m.