Jayapal warns against mixing coronavirus aid and surveillance extension

Seattle-area congresswoman doesn’t want items combined

Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal is warning against combining coronavirus aid with the debate over surveillance powers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal is warning against combining coronavirus aid with the debate over surveillance powers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 2, 2020 at 9:46pm

How difficult could the vote counting be for an emergency spending bill to respond to the coronavirus if leadership tries to attach an extension of expiring surveillance powers?

Just ask one of the lawmakers whose constituents have been near the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak in Washington state.

Seattle-area Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal told reporters at the Capitol on Monday that the question of whether to tie up the expected $7 billion to $8 billion supplemental spending package for the COVID-19 response with the debate over extending Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorities “really just drives me nuts because I had six people die today and over the last couple of days from coronavirus.”

“So any politicization of coronavirus funding is absolutely unacceptable and it should shame everybody in this body to try and do that. FISA has to be separate," Jayapal said. “Coronavirus funding has to be separate. We need to get help to people who are infected across my district, across our state, now increasingly across the country. But we’re facing the brunt of that right now.

“I have made that clear to anybody I can make that clear to. This cannot be combined,” Jayapal said.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey of New York said the question of attaching an extension of the surveillance powers that expire on March 15 was “still being discussed.” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama said earlier Monday that no one had asked him to add FISA language to the coronavirus package currently under development.

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Extraneous provisions not related to the Appropriations Committee are often added at the last minute by leadership. The White House has said the administration’s focus has been on getting the spending package to President Donald Trump as quickly as possible.

Jayapal, who co-chairs Congressional Progressive Caucus, is among the members most involved in efforts to overhaul National Security Agency surveillance powers. She has co-sponsored legislation with Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, to overhaul Section 215 of the 2001 law known as the Patriot Act.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee abruptly canceled a scheduled markup of a reauthorization and overhaul that a coalition led by Lofgren planned to try to amend. No new markup has been scheduled.

“We do not want a clean reauthorization. And we want the strongest bill possible. And so we’re trying to figure out what that can look like,” Jayapal said. “Zoe Lofgren is working also on some issues that are important to her.”

Japayal said she didn’t know if it would be accurate to say the amendments would make the House FISA draft more “progressive.”

“I don’t know if it’s progressive because actually … the Freedom Caucus supports our amendments,” she said.

To that point, Sen. Rand Paul is scheduled to be at the White House on Tuesday to discuss FISA policy, his office confirmed Monday. The Kentucky Republican is among the leading critics on the GOP side of the current surveillance powers.

As for the health crisis that is prompting action on a multibillion-dollar supplemental spending package, Jayapal said that she discussed quarantine and isolation issues earlier Monday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Jayapal also questioned whether there might be federal facilities that could be used for isolation.

“King County just bought a motel to put people in for quarantine,” she said. “A lot of these motels are not places you would ever want to keep anyone, much less a sick person.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.