House Votes to Renew FISA, Bill Moves to Senate

Donald Trump

Senior Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives urged cancellation of a vote set for Thursday on whether to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program after President Donald Trump appeared to initially question the merits of the program.

Lawmakers voted 256-164 across party lines to extend Section 702 of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act for another six years, and offered minimal changes in the legislation despite lengthy debate about loopholes in the provision that may allow intelligence community officials to conduct domestic surveillance on American citizens.

It came less than 24 hours after the USA president's own press secretary issued a statement detailing how the administration opposed a change to FISA and called for its reauthorization.

Shortly after, Trump said the bill "is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!" he followed up.

There are no obvious links between the dossier and the reauthorization of the spying program, but Trump has repeatedly denounced the document in recent days.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, in his weekly news conference, dismissed the notion that Trump didn't know the White House position.

The Senate will hold a procedural vote on the bill next week after it returns from a break, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, was spotted in a House cloakroom talking to members before the vote in a last-minute lobbying push. "I am gratified with this strong, bipartisan vote and look forward to the bill's swift passage in the Senate", Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. FISA stands for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Congress modified after 2008 to legalize warrantless surveillance of foreigners overseas even if they are talking to Americans.

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As part of the negotiations with conservatives, Republican leaders allowed one amendment with the changes the bill's opponents wanted to get a vote - with the assumption it would fail but would at least give these members the chance to say they got something.

The FISA Amendment Reauthorization Act passed by the House fails this test.

The speaker also said lawmakers are making "good progress" on negotiations to raise budget caps - Congressional Republicans and Mr. Trump have asked for more money for defense spending.

"My worry is that they also collect information on millions of Americans, and I don't want that database to be searched without a warrant", the Kentucky Republican said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered the closing argument against the amendment, repeating a common talking point from opponents saying that not allowing law enforcement to dig through the data without a warrant would be risky.

Well, the president created quite a bit of confusion over his position with some contradictory tweets on Thursday morning.

The tweets sent White House aides scrambling to explain the apparent about-face.

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