National Security

NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle

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The Senate narrowly voted to begin winding down debate over legislation renewing government surveillance powers, defeating a filibuster by privacy hawks.

Senators voted 60-38 to wrap up debate on the legislation, which cleared the House last week and extends the surveillance program with only a few small changes.


The program, absent congressional action, is scheduled to expire on Jan. 19.

The vote initially appeared in jeopardy as leadership hovered below the 60-vote threshold needed for more than an hour.

A group of privacy hawks, led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), was spotted talking with Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who had yet to vote. He then went to speak with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who both support the legislation, and ultimately voted to end debate.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also showed up after 7 p.m. and voted “yes,” giving leadership their 60th vote.

Overcoming the procedural hurdle clears the way for a final vote as soon as Wednesday, depending on whether or not opponents of the legislation allow any of the remaining 30 hours to be yielded back.

The privacy hawks, aided by Democratic leadership, mounted an effort to filibuster the legislation in an effort to give lawmakers more time to try to change the legislation.

“I rise in opposition to the government listening to your phone calls, reading your emails, or reading your text messages without a warrant,” Paul said ahead of the vote.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect texts and emails of foreigners abroad without a warrant, even when they communicate with Americans in the U.S.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) filed an amendment to the legislation that would require a probable cause warrant to access the content of Americans’ phone calls and emails that are incidentally collected by the program. 
They got a boost on Tuesday when Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also said he would vote “no” on ending debate, noting the Senate could easily move to allow amendments to the bill. 
“The bill on the calendar is better than the status quo, and it’s certainly better than no bill at all, but that is not the choice before us. The majority leader can open the bill up for limited debate and a few amendments — not to delay — but so that we can have some amendments and try to improve it,” he said. 
But McConnell and Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) both urged their colleagues to move forward with the legislation. 
“This bill is not perfect. Rarely have I worked on or voted on a bill anywhere that’s perfect. But I believe this measure represents a significant compromise and preserves the operational flexibility of Section 702 while instituting key reforms to further protect U.S. personal privacy,” Warner said.
GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) missed the vote. 
Updated: 7:30 p.m. EST.
Tags Chuck Schumer Claire McCaskill Dan Sullivan Dianne Feinstein John Cornyn John Kennedy John McCain Mark Warner Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Patrick Leahy Rand Paul Richard Burr

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