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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 
compromise.

   "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 
floor speech.

   "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," 
Pelosi said.

   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 
activity."

   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.

 
 
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