Trump Opposed House Bill, Leaving FISA to Lapse Sunday; McConnell Expected to Try Again Next Week
WASHINGTON—An effort late Thursday by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to extend Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authority for 45 days to allow time for further negotiations on reforms was blocked by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
Lee, who with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) opposed a House-passed FISA extension, asked for unanimous consent to the additional time to offer amendments to a House-passed FISA re-authorization. The amendments would be to protect individual Americans’ civil liberties.
“All I ask is to give us a few weeks. Let’s take 45 days. Give the Senate a chance to deal with the immediate crises associated with the coronavirus and then a chance for us, in a timely fashion, to review the [House] bill and consider our own amendments to it, bipartisan amendments from people who have reached across the aisle in an effort to make this bill better,” Lee explained on the Senate floor.
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But Burr would have none of it, declaring in response to Lee that “I am not going to have a 45- day extension. I will let us go dark. I will let us go dark, and if there is a need, the President, by executive order, can do it for whatever period people think they are willing to let it expire.”
Burr said no extension was needed because the Senate will debate “every one of the amendments of Senator Lee and the list of people he gave, and I think that they will be struck down.”
The North Carolina Republican was referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to bring the Senate back into session Monday to consider the House bill, known officially as “The USA Freedom Act of 2020.”
The House measure is supported by Attorney General William Barr and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Minority Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
But Lee, Paul, multiple House Republicans and Tom Fitton, president of the non-profit government watchdog Judicial Watch, say the House bill ignores reforms needed to end abuses like those detailed by Department of Justice Inspector Michael Horowitz.
Lee told colleagues late Thursday that President Donald Trump told him he opposed the House bill, which raised the specter of a presidential veto if the Senate approved the measure without further amendments.
Paul issued a statement after the Lee-Burr floor confrontation, declaring that, “As President Trump has repeatedly stated, we should not reauthorize these expiring surveillance powers without real reform. After all we have learned about how government has abused its authority, including spying on President Trump’s 2016 campaign, neither a clean extension, nor the window dressing offered by the U.S.