The debate on whether to reauthorize Section 702 of FISA moves to the Senate this week. The bill will more than likely pass, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing all he can to make sure #FISA702 sails through without any changes. Two sources told me McConnell is “filling the tree,” meaning no amendments will be allowed before the Senate votes. It does increase the likelihood of a filibuster from Senators Rand Paul and/or Ron Wyden, which is a great way to raise a point about the need for amendments and the problem with FISA reauthorization to begin with, but will unlikely result in any actual changes.
People in and around Capitol Hill are still hoping McConnell will change his mind, and allow amendments. Utah Senator Mike Lee spokesperson Conn Carroll told me, “Lee is working with his Senate colleagues to ensure there is an open and honest amendment process on FISA reauthorization.”
FreedomWorks, which has really been involved in the #FISA702 debate and reform, is also prodding the Senate on amendments.
“Regular order should always be the standard in the Senate,” Vice President of Legislative Affairs Jason Pye told me, in a statement. “With such severe Fourth Amendment implications at stake, Leader McConnell, who swore an oath to the protect and defend the Constitution, has a responsibility to allow amendments offered by Sens. Lee and Paul that would eliminate the backdoor search loophole and ensure that ‘abouts’ collection can never come back.”
I’ve written about the FISA reauthorization over the last week, pointing out the Fourth Amendment issues, and what civil libertarianish groups are saying about the House passage. You’d think the upcoming Senate debate on the bill would be a bit of a hotter topic in the press, and with the American people.
None of the Sunday shows talked about FISA. The focus was on the Hawaii missile alert (completely understandable, and makes sense), whether President Donald Trump said “sh**hole countries,” immigration in general, and whether Trump is a racist. This is beyond frustrating, and shows just how backwards DC and the media can be. Meet the Press had a live interview with Rand Paul, but decided asking about Trump’s comments was more important than FISA. It’s maddening and completely irresponsible of Chuck Todd, his news team, and, possibly, even Paul himself. When friends have asked my opinion on Trump’s comments, I’ve redirected the conversation to FISA because I think it’s more important. I fail to see why Paul couldn’t have said to Todd, “Look, this is my belief, but there’s a bill coming up this week which needs more discussion.” Even if it’s just two quick sentences on why FISA shouldn’t be renewed, it’s a lot better than not mentioning it at all. Now, that could end up hurting Paul because it might limit his ability to appear on other shows to discuss big issues, but it still might be worth the risk.
The biggest problem is the fact debating immigration/DACA/etc is a more emotional discussion than FISA. It tugs at heartstrings, brings up more heated debate, and makes better television. People can see the effects of immigration because they deal with immigrants in one way, shape, or form every day. The effects of FISA really aren’t seen at all, unless someone decides to leak information to the press, like Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, and Diane Roark.
It’s also pretty hard to discuss FISA in a simple sentence. Describing it as, “NSA spying,” only covers part of the issue, and the problem, and not everyone is interested in a five minutes long treatise on why the government’s seizure of metadata by giving a warrant to telecom agencies, not individuals, violates the Fourth Amendment. The same goes with discussing the governmental process, and why amendments should be offered on bills. It’s so much easier to quibble over who is coming into this country, even if that debate is much more complicated than anyone wants to admit because of the history of immigration law in the U.S., and whether it’s actually constitutional for the government to limit immigration. That’s the kind of argument only political geeks really enjoy having, and FISA tends to be limited to tech advocates, civil libertarians, and real defense hawks.
The fact is this: reauthorizing FISA is a big deal, and the fact McConnell isn’t allowing amendments on the 702 legislation is disgusting. This legislation affects everyone in ways they don’t see because they don’t get served with a warrant when the government requests data. It goes to the telecom companies, as mentioned above. There’s also this notion FISA is essential to national security, which is debatable. This is the argument which should be going on publicly, in Congress, and in the media. It’s more important to our lives as Americans, and what the government may or may not be doing to our lives and our personal security.
But, sh**hole countries, man. That’s soooooooo much more important. To quote John Stossel, “Give me a break.”