Senate Republicans Furious Over Trump Derailing FISA Bill

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Senate Republicans expressed frustration after former President Trump helped derail a House compromise bill to extend the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), leading lawmakers to seek a Plan B to prevent the country’s intelligence agencies from losing their ability to spy on adversaries and terrorists. .

Republican senators warn that the country’s spy program is about to be “shut down” and that much of the intelligence included in President Biden’s daily briefing could be lost, putting the nation at risk of surprise attacks.

“I am very disappointed in President Trump’s assessment of FISA. It is an essential tool. It may need to be modified, but it is absolutely essential, as everyone in the intelligence community will tell you,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned that failure to pass the bill would cripple the nation’s intelligence gathering.

“If we can’t spy on foreign terrorists and foreign spies abroad, we’re out of the intelligence business,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another member of the Intelligence Committee, noted that much of the national security intelligence provided to Biden on a daily basis comes from information collected under Section 702 of FISA.

“So I think we need to reform it, not end it,” Cornyn said.

Asked what it would mean for national security if Congress eliminated FISA’s warrantless surveillance authority under Section 702, Cornyn warned: “We wouldn’t respond to many threats. “I hope there can be a broader conversation about what the reforms should look like.”

Cornyn, an adviser to the Senate leadership team, acknowledged that the path forward for reauthorizing surveillance authority is unclear.

“I don’t know what the plan is, if it’s to do a short-term extension,” he said.

Trump effectively derailed a House bill to extend expanded surveillance powers by urging Congress on Friday to “kill FISA.”

“KILLING FISA WAS ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPY ON MY CAMPAIGN!!!” Trump fumed on his social media platform, Truth Social.

Nineteen House Republicans heeded that demand and blocked the bill from advancing in the House on Wednesday. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and his allies rushed Thursday to come up with a Plan B to reauthorize the program before the looming April 19 deadline, and the House Rules Committee met to prepare a similar version of the measurement for a floor. vote on Friday.

Several Republican holdouts signaled that after negotiations they were willing to help advance the measure in the House, but not everyone was willing to give it their go-ahead, and Johnson can afford to lose just two votes.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) criticized Trump for jeopardizing the future of the national security program over his personal dispute with the FBI and other intelligence agencies over the wiretapping of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. , during the 2016 elections.

“I know that for President Trump, much of what happens in the world, in his opinion, revolves around him, but FISA is actually designed to prevent another 9/11 or worse, and our law enforcement have been widely used to protect Americans. and if FISA were eliminated, American lives would be lost,” he stated.

Romney said Trump’s call to eliminate FISA is “a very dangerous position.”

“If there are reforms that are necessary to prevent abuses, then by all means let’s enact those reforms, but let’s not throw away something that is so essential to the lives and well-being of our citizens,” he said.

Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, told The Hill on Wednesday that Trump’s opposition to FISA appears to be motivated more by personal animosity than by substantive political disagreement or concern about Fourth Amendment protections.

“I think President Trump’s opposition seems to have arisen from personal resentment rather than logic or reason. “The provision he objects to has nothing to do with the floor provision,” he said, referring to legislation reauthorizing FISA Section 702, which stalled in the House on Wednesday after 19 Republicans voted to defeat a bill. rule to move it forward.

Barr warned that allowing the program to lapse would put the nation at risk of attack.

“I hope for the sake of the Republicans that there are no attacks, because if there are, I think there will be blood on people’s hands for doing this. “It is reckless,” he stated.

Barr and several senators, including Rubio, noted that the FBI initiated a wiretap of Page, a former Trump campaign aide, in 2016 under Section 1 of FISA, which is not at issue in the House reauthorization bill. . And they noted that the FBI obtained a warrant from a FISA court to surveil Page.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said the former president went too far in calling for the termination of FISA and Section 702.

“I don’t agree with him,” he said. “I’ve worked with the FBI, I’ve seen the briefing on the reforms, I think they’ve addressed concerns, and I think the world is too dangerous right now for us to be left in the dark.”

Tillis said Republican lawmakers need to work with the Biden administration to keep the nation safe, and if Trump wants additional changes to the program, he should work with Congress on new reforms if he is elected president in November.

“Our job is to take care of the business today. “We can have this discussion with a future President Trump, but I think if we shut down, it will make this country and this world much more dangerous, and that’s why I support it, with all due respect to President Trump,” he said. .

Some Republicans, however, applauded Trump’s intervention on the issue.

“I completely agree,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a libertarian-leaning conservative, of Trump’s call to “kill FISA.”

“I never felt like you could circumvent the Constitution to get information about Americans,” he said. “Within the country, the Constitution applies, and this huge 702 database, I guess, has tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of information on Americans.

“I think 702 is a terrible program applied to Americans,” he said.

It’s just the latest example of how Trump undermined Republican leaders on Capitol Hill at the last minute and scuttled high-priority legislation.

Trump annulled the Senate’s bipartisan border security agreement in February and told Republican lawmakers at the time to oppose it because he did not want to give Biden a legislative victory on border security.

And the former president tried to derail a $95 billion emergency foreign aid package that included $60 billion for Ukraine, which the Senate approved in February with 70 votes.

Trump made phone calls to Republican senators urging them to vote against the legislation, depriving it of majority support within the Senate Republican conference.

But Republican senators are baffled that U.S. intelligence agencies could lose critical intelligence-gathering authority in a few days because Trump helped kill a House bill to expand that authority.

“There are many reasons why we can’t let everything go dark. There are things that need to be fixed and reformed, and I think that is the focus. But it is a tool that we really need to keep America safe,” said Senate Republican Leader John Thune (SD).

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, noted that an individual who was threatening to shoot up churches in Idaho was recently arrested before he could carry out any attacks.

“If that guy had gone in and murdered a group of people and then the news had come out: ‘We saw it, we knew it, but we couldn’t do anything about it,’ the whole country would have been up in arms about it. that,” he said.

Lankford acknowledged that he doesn’t know if that particular threat was stopped because of the expansion of FISA’s surveillance authority, but argued: “It’s not occasional. “There are threats that come to our country all the time.”

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