The bill, already approved by the House, also includes new privacy protections that Attorney General William Barr had helped negotiate, inspired in part by the president’s complaints about the way existing surveillance programs had been used to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the initial probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who previously said he would speak with Trump and urge him to veto the legislation if it reached his desk, ripped the process that produced the bipartisan measure.
“I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be considered. … I’m happy to consider but we need the opportunity to actually consider it,” he said on the Senate floor, adding that it was negotiated without “direct input from anybody in this body.”
The Utah Republican repeatedly asked consent for a “clean,” 45-day extension of the authorities and consideration of a handful of amendments to the House bill, but was blocked each time by Senate intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
“I am not going to have a 45-day extension. I’ll let us go dark,” Burr warned.
Lee at one point called Burr’s behavior “unsenatorial.”
Senate leadership earlier in the day had run a “hotline” — an expedited process to check for last-minute opposition to bringing legislation to the floor for an immediate vote.
Multiple GOP senators indicated they would take up the bill next week — after the chamber canceled a week-long recess to work on a coronavirus bill. Before McConnell made his request, Paul predicted that a measure renewing the investigative tools would be brought up next Monday or Tuesday.
The procedural moves came hours after Trump threw another wrench into the already complex renewal process by tweeting Thursday that Republicans are urging him to veto the bill, which the House overwhelmingly approved on Wednesday.
“Many Republican Senators want me to Veto the FISA Bill until we find out what led to, and happened with, the illegal attempted ‘coup’ of the duly elected President of the United States, and others!” said the tweet from Trump, who has frequently alleged without evidence that members of the intelligence community and the former Obama administration have unlawfully tried to undermine him.
A Lee spokesman confirmed media reports that he had spoken with Trump earlier on Thursday and that the president told him he did not support the House bill — a stance that could endanger its chances of passage next week.
The measure incorporates new privacy provisions into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and imposes new requirements on the FISA court system. It also permanently ends an already dormant NSA program that allowed it to obtain, with judicial approval, Americans’ phone records in terrorism probes.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday morning, McConnell acknowledged the possibility the intelligence powers wouldn’t be reauthorized before the deadline.
“I hope none of our colleagues choose to unilaterally force them to lapse just for the sake of making a point,” he said. “But at least it would only be temporary because this bill is going to pass. These authorities are getting renewed.”
The temporary expiration closely resembles the debate from 2015, the last time lawmakers considered the three programs — originally part of the 2001 Patriot Act. The authorities expired for 26 hours before lawmakers approved the USA Freedom Act.
Earlier Thursday, Burr chided the legislation’s opponents — particularly over a provision that allows law enforcement to obtain “roving” wiretaps to follow terrorism suspects who frequently switch email accounts and discard phones — and recalled the lapse almost five years ago.
“Thank goodness nothing happened,” the North Carolina Republican said.