President Trump is threatening to “quickly veto” legislation if it passes in the House that would reauthorize key provisions of the federal surveillance program known as FISA, citing “massive abuse” from the expired government tool.
“If the FISA Bill is passed tonight on the House floor, I will quickly VETO it. 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 tweeted Wednesday evening ahead of the vote.
If the FISA Bill is passed tonight on the House floor, I will quickly VETO it. Our Country has just suffered through the greatest political crime in its history. The massive abuse of FISA was a big part of it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
The FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) bill would reauthorize three lapsed surveillance programs under a 2015 law known as the USA Freedom Act until December 2023 and make some changes to the FISA court.
The three key surveillance of FISA’s Section 215 includes the “business records” provision that authorizes the government to collect information from phone and Internet providers; the “roving wiretaps” provision that allows investigators to eavesdrop on those who switch phone numbers or acquire burner phones; and the “lone wolf” provision which allows the government to monitor foreigners suspected of aiding foreign terrorists that are not tied to international terrorist groups.
In March, the House passed the FISA renewal bill with broad bipartisan support by a 278-136 vote. 152 Democrats and 126 Republicans voted in support of the bill that included new privacy protections that Attorney General Bill Barr along with some of Trump’s closest House allies helped negotiate. The legislation also imposes new requirements on the FISA court system and permanently end an already deactivated NSA program that had allowed the agency to obtain, with judicial approval, Americans’ phone records in terrorism probes.
The Senate two months later passed with large bipartisan support by a vote of 80-16 an amended bill that would expand civil liberties protections along with changes to the FISA court process. The changes from the Senate forced the bill to go back to the House for a second vote.
The House was slated to pass the Senate amended version on Wednesday, but the plan was quickly axed after President Trump urged House Republicans in a tweet Tuesday night to oppose the legislation “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!”
“I hope all Republican House Members vote NO on FISA 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!” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday night.
After the President tweet, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to pull the House initial bill from the floor and urged him to delay citing the president disapproval.
“In moving forward today, it won’t be signed into law. The President has questions, the attorney general has questions,” McCarthy said. “Since the time we had passed the bill in the House, there has been more information coming forward with the FISA court being used in processes it shouldn’t have been.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) whip his party against the measure, arguing the House should wait until they can draft legislation that has the support of the Trump Administration.
Earlier Wednesday morning, the Department of Justice formally came out against the legislation, urging the President to veto the Senate measure if passes, saying the legislation set to reauthorize and reform national security authorities in the Freedom Act goes too far and would weaken national security tools.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters earlier Wednesday that the House will vote on the bill that the Senate initially passed and Democratic leaders decided to drop a proposed House amendment aimed at restricting law enforcement from obtaining web browsing history without a FISA warrant. She added that the vote would still move forward despite opposition from Republican lawmakers and Trump and hoped the president would sign the bill.
“With a FISA bill, nobody is ever really that happy,” Pelosi said. “We have to have a bill, and we have to have it signed. That bill in the Senate goes a long way, and it is strongly bipartisan. We hope that it would be the bill that could get the signature of the president. If we don’t have a bill, our civil liberties are less protected.”
The removal of the proposed House amendment that would limit the collection of internet search history also cost support from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, making it unclear the faith of the bill.