Surveillance Bill Future in Doubt 05/28 06:42
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Legislation extending surveillance authorities the FBI
sees as vital in fighting terrorism was thrown into doubt as President Donald
Trump threatened a veto and Republican leaders and top liberal Democrats said
they would oppose it.
House Democratic leaders abruptly adjourned without considering the bill,
hours after saying there would be a vote Wednesday evening. In between, Trump
said explicitly for the first time he would veto the measure. A similar version
of the legislation had drawn bipartisan support just weeks ago.
"If the FISA Bill is passed tonight on the House floor, I will quickly VETO
it," Trump tweeted, using the acronym for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act. "Our Country has just suffered through the greatest political crime in its
history. The massive abuse of FISA was a big part of it!"
Trump had suggested Tuesday he would oppose the measure, prompting
Republicans who once backed the deal to follow Trump's lead and say Wednesday
they would vote against it.
The leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has about 70
Democratic House members, also said they'd oppose the legislation, saying it
lacked curbs on online surveillance without warrants.
Combined with strong GOP opposition, the Democrats' defiance of House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested there might be enough dissent to sink
the bill. It was unclear if Democratic leaders would try again Thursday to hold
a vote or if they'd skip a vote and try to negotiate with the Senate on a final
"We cannot in good conscience vote for legislation that violates Americans'
fundamental right to privacy," said the progressive caucus' leaders, Reps.
Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis.
The legislation first passed the House in March with broad bipartisan
support after Attorney General William Barr negotiated a deal with Republican
and Democratic House leaders. But that consensus crumbled Wednesday after the
Justice Department came out against the bill, which was amended by the Senate.
The Justice Department's statement, by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd,
urged Trump to reject the bill.
Soon after, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said it was
time to take a "pause" on the legislation.
The impasse raised the potential for the surveillance powers to remain
expired indefinitely. The provisions, which lapsed in March, allow the FBI to
get a court order for business records in national security investigations and
conduct surveillance on subjects without establishing they're acting on behalf
of an international terrorism organization. They also make it easier for
investigators to continue eavesdropping on a subject who has switched cellphone
providers to thwart detection.
Despite the sudden GOP switch, Democratic leaders said they'd move forward
with a vote anyway, arguing very little had changed since 126 Republicans,
including McCarthy, voted for it in March.
"Your flailing around to find a rationalization for your change of vote is
sad," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told Republicans in a heated
"The only thing that has changed," Hoyer said, "is that Donald Trump has
said vote no."
With Republicans opposed, Pelosi needed to keep her caucus together to pass
it. But losing the progressives lawmakers who've long opposed surveillance
laws made that a lot harder. On the floor, she pleaded with her colleagues
to support the legislation to protect national security and pass reforms to
protect civil liberties that were included in the original compromise.
"If we don't have a bill, then our civil liberties are less protected,"
The only amendment adopted by the Senate, with 77 votes, was bipartisan
language to allow more third-party oversight to protect people in some
surveillance cases. The final bill passed the Senate with 80 votes.
The Justice Department's statement said that amended Senate version of the
bill would "weaken national security tools while doing nothing to address the
abuses" identified by the Justice Department inspector general in his report on
the FBI investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
Trump, still seething over the Russia investigation, implored all House
Republicans in a Tuesday tweet to vote no "until such time as our Country is
able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive
scandal in USA history took place!"
McCarthy said lawmakers passed the legislation with bipartisan majorities
before and should try again to negotiate a compromise.
"If the Democrats bring this bill up they're just playing politics,"
McCarthy said. "And this is not something to play politics with."
The statements underscored the tortuous process Congress has faced in
renewing the surveillance powers since an inspector general report that
documented serious errors and mistakes in how the FBI used its authorities
during the Russia investigation. Those problems included errors and omissions
in applications the FBI submitted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser.
Republicans have historically been hawkish on preserving surveillance powers
in the name of national security. But Trump's GOP allies have joined him over
the last year in demanding that any renewal of the FBI's powers be accompanied
by significant new restrictions.
The powers are not directly related to the errors uncovered during the
Russia investigation. But Republican lawmakers and some Democratic civil
liberties advocates have seized on those problems in demanding reforms.
The Senate passed its version of the legislation this month. The chamber
fell short by one vote of adding an amendment, sponsored by Democrat Ron Wyden
of Oregon and Republican Steve Daines of Montana, that would prevent federal
law enforcement from obtaining internet browsing information or search history
without seeking a warrant.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., announced
Tuesday that Democrats had agreed on a similar amendment that they would offer
to the House bill. But that amendment faced opposition from the Justice
Department and from Wyden, who said the House version would not "enact true
protections for Americans' rights against dragnet collection of online
Democrats later dropped the amendment and said they instead would hold the
vote on the Senate version with no amendments offered. That means the
legislation would go straight to the president's desk if passed by the House.