In the end, the dustup over Donald Trump’s contradictory tweets did little to derail reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act’s most controversial section. The House passed a bill giving Section 702’s mass surveillance capabilities another five-year run on a bipartisan vote, 256-164:
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 11, 2018
The bill survived some tense moments on the floor, including a demand from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to pull the bill over Trump’s tweets:
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. …
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, to cancel the vote after Trump’s tweets, a senior aide said.
The House also killed the USA Rights Amendment which would have proscribed some of the Section 702 authority for the FBI and Department of Justice:
In a narrow victory for the Trump administration, the House on Thursday voted down a bid to impose new limits on how authorities can use information on Americans collected in foreign spying.
The amendment failed by a vote of 183 to 233.
The bill now proceeds to the Senate, where Rand Paul promises to filibuster the bill if it does not include the USA Rights Amendment or similar changes. Mike Lee also pledged his support for Paul for his reform demand, and that would put Republicans below 50 votes just from those two defectors. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has prepared the Senate version of the USA Rights Amendment, and it’s likely to get a floor vote at some point.
However, it seems likely that the core House bill will have Democratic support as well without attaching reform language to it. More Democrats in the House crossed over to pass the bill than Republicans who crossed over to oppose it, 65/45. To ensure a smoother ride, Senate majority whip John Cornyn (R-TX) suggested that the House bill might get attached to the omnibus spending bill that will need to get approved by January 19th to avoid a shutdown, which is coincidentally the same date as the expiration of 702’s current authorization. Paul would probably vote against both anyway, but if Congress gets a deal on DACA and border security, the spending bill should breeze through.
Update: If Trump had stayed off Twitter this morning, he could have claimed this as a big win. Now, it looks a little like a loss, to the extent that a coherent position at the White House exists at all.