Trump FISA tweet puts Capitol Hill in a tizzy

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 TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE tweeted.

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“‘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.

Supporters of the amendment immediately blasted out the tweet to rally support for the proposal. Democrats launched an ill-fated effort to pull the underlying bill from the floor. Members walking onto the floor to vote, asked for their predictions, threw their hands up and said, “No idea!”

“There were people on the fence, there were friends of mine on the fence that I’ve been working — when that first tweet came out, I got a couple texts from some of my friends saying ‘I’m voting no, because if he doesn’t care I don’t care,’” said Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons MORE (R-Fla.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who backed the underlying legislation.

An hour and a half later, Trump issued a second tweet clarifying his position.

At the time, Republicans were holding a contentious meeting on the bill behind closed doors. The House Freedom Caucus and a few other privacy-minded members have been fiercely opposed to renewing the program without the changes proposed in the amendment, from Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashBipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals Overnight Defense: House votes to end US support for Yemen war | Vote expected to force Trump's second veto of presidency | More Russian troops may head to Venezuela | First 'Space Force' hearing set for next week House ignores Trump veto threat, approves bill ending US support for Yemen war MORE (R-Mich.).

“We were getting a minute-by-minute update. ‘Hey, there’s another one!’” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeLawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds MORE (R-Okla.), reenacting the incident for reporters. “People were laughing about it.”

In the second tweet, Trump essentially said that he was in favor of the underlying bill but against the amendment. He also noted that he separately was taking action to change the rules for the “unmasking” of officials caught up on wiretaps.

Trump tweeted that he “has personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land.”

The White House had already expected a fierce fight on the amendment before Trump put his own position briefly into question.

The amendment opposed by the administration had passed the House twice before, under former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaChina, Russia, Iran rise in Latin America as US retreats Castro wants to follow Obama's lead on balancing presidency with fatherhood Trump's regulatory rollback boosts odds of a financial crisis MORE, and as late as Wednesday night officials were still making calls to try to sway uncertain members. White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE was on the Hill Thursday to rally support.

In the end, the House voted to renew the program with a few small changes. Although some members had expected the tally to be close, the controversial amendment went down by 50 votes.

The vote was a pivotal moment in the battle over surveillance and privacy, dampening the hopes of those who wanted to limit the government’s powers.

Although Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem super PAC campaign urges Republicans to back impeachment Booker, Harris have missed most Senate votes Trump vetoes measure ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen MORE (R-Ky.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe difference between good and bad tax reform Hillicon Valley: Trump meets Twitter CEO after slamming company | Kushner calls Russia probes more 'harmful' than election interference | Dem wants FTC to hold Zuckerberg 'liable' for data missteps | Sri Lanka faces tough questions over social media ban Treasury misses second Dem deadline on Trump tax returns MORE (D-Ore.) have vowed to filibuster the bill, the upper chamber is expected to swiftly take up and pass it. And despite the first tweet, Trump is expected to sign it.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) spoke to Trump after the initial tweet, but after the vote he batted down questions from reporters about whether Trump understood what the House was voting on and how his tweets sowed confusion on Capitol Hill.

“We speak on an almost daily basis. It’s well known that he has concerns about the domestic FISA law, but that’s not what we’re doing today. Today, we’re doing 702, which is a different part of that law,” Ryan said.

“He knows that, and he I think put out something that clarified that. And his administration's position has been the clear from day one, which is 702 is really important; it's got to be renewed.”

Supporters of the surveillance program have repeatedly complained that issues such as unmasking have been conflated with Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law authorizing the government to spy on foreigners overseas.

Unmasking isn’t covered by Section 702, which allows the government to use any information they “incidentally” collect on Americans who are corresponding with legitimate foreign targets. Critics of the program say that investigators should have to seek a warrant before searching the database for American targets.

The two issues became politically linked last year when the president tweeted that the Obama administration had “wiretapped” his campaign at Trump Tower. Republicans have long speculated that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was caught up in 702 surveillance and inappropriately unmasked by Obama administration officials.

“There are FISA issues swirling around that have absolutely nothing to do with 702,” Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayDems ramp up subpoena threats GOP zeroes in on Schiff Pelosi rushes to Schiff's defense MORE (R-Texas) said before the vote. “Those are being used by opponents, those who want it to go dark, in a perfectly legitimate debate technique to try to muddy the waters.”

“I think the president’s instincts are great and I think he understands that all the evidence points to the fact that it sure looks like the FBI systematically went after him — so he’s concerned about all these possible infringements on the Fourth Amendment,” said Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDems digging into Trump finances post-Mueller Overnight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Cummings accuses Oversight Republicans of obstructing drug price probe MORE (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus member who supported the amendment.

Melanie Zanona and Scott Wong contributed.