Update(1300ET): As expected given there were only a handful of senators and House reps opposing, Congress has approved the short-term extension of the US government's warrantless surveillance powers:
Congress has approved a short-term extension of the nation’s warrantless surveillance powers, punting to the new year a decision over how to reform the law.
Included in the defense policy bill headed to the president’s desk after approval by the House on Thursday is a measure that extends Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) until mid-April.
Here's what Rep. Chip Roy of Texas had to say: "The fact of the matter is what’s being stated is it is impossible to oppose the National Defense Authorization Act because we put a pay raise in it or because we put something in there that is seemingly so important that we have to ignore the critical destruction of our civil liberties by adding FISA extension right on the top of it without doing the forms necessary to protect the American people."
He and some others have argued that the FISA issue should be a standalone bill and not part of the NDAA. Naturally, the US intelligence community praised its passage as "necessary" to national security.
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At a moment Republicans are continuing to hold out on their refusal to support a massive $111 billion supplemental spending package that Biden wants for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan - the Senate did manage to get something big done, namely passage of the mammoth $886 billion 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
It passed on Wednesday, authorizing funding for the Department of Defense for this next year, in a vote of 87-13. Those voting against it included six Republicans, six Democrats, and an Independent. It now heads to the House where a vote is expected Thursday.
The no votes included GOP hardliners who "have been criticizing House Republicans... after the text of the compromise with the Democrat-controlled Senate removed a number of conservative policy goals on transgender surgeries and abortion, among others," according to FOX.
Other controversial, arguably more pressing aspects which also attracted a minority of Democrat criticism includes an amendment to extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
This controversially allows warrantless spying of foreign targets and Americans who have communications with those foreign subjects. The new extension in the NDAA authorizes it further until at least April 19.
Sen. Mike Lee raised the alarm on the FISA issue in particular, writing on X, "The Senate just voted to waive the point of order against the NDAA. 35 of us opposed the motion to waive. We needed only 41 to prevent this outcome, and to remove FISA 702 from the NDAA. This is not good. The House should #StopTheNDAA."
And here's what Sen. Lee is urging Americans to do:
It’s a new day in America. The Fourth Amendment still prohibits warrantless searches of Americans. FBI disregards that under FISA 702. The NDAA would further enable FBI’s lawless abuse of 702. One-third of the House can still stop the NDAA. Ask your representative to vote NO!!!
Rand Paul was another objector. House Rep from the same state of Kentucky Thomas Massie had this to say: "It was close in the Senate, but now it’s up to the House tomorrow to stop the reauthorization of warrantless spying on Americans."
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden also urged Americans to voice their opposition to the NDAA...
If Mike Johnson (@SpeakerJohnson) abuses the NDAA to smuggle into law an extension of the warrantless surveillance regime (FISA702) that the FBI exploited to spy ON AMERICANS more than TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND times in JUST ONE YEAR, he should be dumped just like McCarthy. No excuse. pic.twitter.com/PecHIpknuC— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) December 13, 2023
Even CNN has highlighted that Section 702 easily sets up the government to exploit the law and conduct mass wireless spying, a severe violation of the Fourth Amendment.
"The searches are governed by a set of internal rules and procedures designed to protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, but critics say that loopholes allow the FBI to search the data it collects for Americans’ information – as opposed to from foreign adversaries – without proper justification," CNN writes.
Also interesting is another fight centered on historic abuse of government power, as The Hill details:
The rocky relationship between Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a rising conservative populist star, is in the spotlight after McConnell played a leading role in killing a Hawley-sponsored amendment to the annual defense bill.
WATCH: Senate Adopts Hawley Amendment Providing Funding for Victims of STL Region Nuclear Contamination— Senator Hawley Press Office (@SenHawleyPress) July 28, 2023
"For fifty years, the federal government has put into the water, into the soil, into the air of St. Louis and surrounding regions radioactive nuclear material." pic.twitter.com/MeUvKZ6A5o
Further, "Hawley says McConnell was dead set on killing his provision, which would have provided compensation to St. Louis-area residents who were exposed to radiation from improperly stored nuclear waste left over from the Manhattan Project in the 1940s."