FISA deal passes House, but some conservatives want Trump to veto it

The House passed the measure, 278-136, on Wednesday

Attorney General William Barr has endorsed the FISA compromise. (CQ Roll Call)
Attorney General William Barr has endorsed the FISA compromise. (CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 11, 2020 at 1:29pm, Updated at 5:10pm

A bipartisan House compromise overhauling and reauthorizing foreign intelligence surveillance policies appears on track to reach President Donald Trump ahead of a Sunday deadline.

The House passed the measure, 278-136, on Wednesday with support and opposition coming from a mix of members on both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, sought to convince fellow Republicans that the overhaul provisions were sufficient to prevent future politically targeted actions under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He stressed that if the provisions don’t succeed, it’s likely the intelligence tools in question will ultimately go away.

“These tools have worked well as long as the people who are conducting and using these surveillance capabilities don’t decide to turn them on political opponents,” the California Republican said on the House floor.

“It appears like the Senate is prepared to accept a complete House-produced product,” Nunes said. “That rarely happens, especially in this day and age.”

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There are still procedural hurdles that could imperil Senate passage before the deadline, however.

Barr blesses deal

Attorney General William Barr, who huddled with House Republican lawmakers in the office of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday evening, blessed the deal ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

[Republicans push FISA overhaul to CPAC faithful]

“The bill contains an array of new requirements and compliance provisions that will protect against abuse and misuse in the future while ensuring that this critical tool is available when appropriate to protect the safety of the American people,” Barr said in a statement after reviewing the bill language.

The bill would reauthorize through Dec. 1, 2023, various surveillance authorities of the USA FREEDOM Act and the underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But the compromise legislation divides both parties.

“The FISA draft is more than disappointing… it provides protections for politicians but not citizens,” tweeted Rep. Chip Roy after the text was released Tuesday. The Texas Republican was among the lawmakers pushing for the president to veto the legislation, which was the product of bipartisan negotiations.

Administration officials did not immediately offer an endorsement of the legislation from the president himself, despite Barr’s support.

The measure would statutorily end the National Security Agency’s already-suspended call detail records program, but reformers say it falls short in other areas. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, pointed to what he viewed as gaps in the legislation, including the lack of truly independent oversight of FISA orders.

“The bill fails to clarify that the government cannot collect information like communications records and geo-location information outside the FISA process and beyond any judicial or congressional oversight,” Wyden said in a statement. “When Congress passes surveillance laws, the public has a right to know that the government does not consider them optional.”

California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren concurred with Wyden’s concerns.

“It’s unfortunate that this bill does not include significant reforms that are necessary to protect Americans’ civil liberties,” she said in a statement. “For example, most Americans know their web browsing history and search queries contain private, personal information, and yet this reauthorization allows the Intelligence Community to seize that sensitive data without a warrant.”

Bipartisan negotiations

The bill resulted from negotiations involving an assortment of lawmakers from McCarthy to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with committee leaders.

“As with any negotiation, no one side is getting everything they want, but we believe it’s important to enhance transparency and privacy safeguards wherever possible,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York and Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California said in a joint statement.

McCarthy said in a statement that the legislation would help remedy the abuses of the FISA Court process that became clear in the investigation of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

“The proposed FISA language will provide our intelligence community with the tools it needs to keep our country safe while ensuring that the injustices Mr. Page suffered will not be repeated,” McCarthy said, pointing to, among other things, language that “requires the Attorney General to approve FISA investigations of elected officials or federal candidates.”

But even though such Trump allies as Oversight and Reform ranking member Jim Jordan of Ohio are on board, Roy and like-minded members on both sides of the Capitol are disagreeing with that analysis.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune told reporters Wednesday morning that he’ll likely support the deal and that the Senate could clear it “fairly quickly.”

“Yeah. I think so. The bill, assuming it stays in its current form, if they get it passed over there, hopefully we can take it up and move it here,” Thune said.

Opposition to the legislation from GOP senators with more libertarian bents, like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, could slow down final approval of the package.

Thune said he hoped they wouldn’t use time-consuming procedural tools to do so. “I guess I would hope that they can register that opposition in a different way,” the South Dakota Republican said.

After reviewing the House legislation, Lee responded with a tweet reminiscent of the president’s messaging.

“Even where the House FISA / PATRIOT Act deal claims to offer modest protection for political candidates and elected officials, it doesn’t provide the same protection for the American people!” Lee tweeted. “@realDonaldTrump has asked for real FISA reforms, not fake ones. Sad!”

Paul, meanwhile, called the bill “weak sauce.”

Earlier in the day Tuesday, the Kentucky Republican previewed some of his strategy without ruling out the possibility of a filibuster that could cause a brief expiration of the authorities.

“I will be putting forward an amendment that says FISA shouldn’t be used on Americans, and we’ll see where that goes,” Paul told reporters.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.