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House Approves Bill To Renew Spying Powers


A key vote in the House today split both Republicans and Democrats and some might say President Trump himself. National security and civil liberties advocates were already deeply at odds over renewing spying powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Then Trump weighed in with a pair of tweets that upended things even more. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: At about 7:30 this morning on Fox News, a legal analyst argued that President Trump should go against a White House statement of support last night and oppose extending the surveillance measure the House was set to vote on today. Minutes later, Trump tweeted that the law may have been used, quote, "to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump campaign by the previous administration and others." Two hours later on the House floor, California Democrat Adam Schiff responded.


ADAM SCHIFF: As my colleagues are aware, the president issued a statement via Twitter suggesting that this authority was used illegally by the Obama administration to surveil him. Of course that is blatantly untrue but nonetheless casts an additional cloud over the debate today.

WELNA: Schiff supports the bill extending the warrantless surveillance program known as Section 702 for another six years. But he asked that the House postpone today's vote due to what he called the administration's inaccurate, confusing and conflicting comments. Texas Republican Mike Conaway disagreed.


MIKE CONAWAY: I personally believe that plays into the emotions of what's going on rather than the facts of what's going on. And If we can just continue to push forward...

WELNA: Section 702 has allowed federal spy agencies to collect data on foreigners outside the U.S. without a warrant, but the data of Americans in touch with those targets or simply mentioned in their communications has also been swept up. Still, the Judiciary Committee's Republican chairman, Bob Goodlatte, said that extending those powers which expire next week is crucial.


BOB GOODLATTE: This bill must be passed. It is absolutely essential for our protection. It surveys - (unintelligible) people outside the United States who are not United States citizens. The fact that it collects incidental information about U.S. citizens should not be a prohibition on this effort.


NANCY PELOSI: Is it perfect? I've never voted for a perfect bill in this House.

WELNA: That's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi trying to persuade fellow Democrats to vote for the bill.


PELOSI: It's not right to say there is nothing in this bill that protects the privacy of the American people.

WELNA: But fellow California Democrat Zoe Lofgren said some civil liberties protections that were added fell far short of what's needed. She backed a more restrictive alternative.


ZOE LOFGREN: What this amendment says is if you are going to search for the information of an American that has been collected in that database and it's not terrorism but domestic criminal investigation, get a warrant.

WELNA: In the end, that amendment failed, and the bill passed in a bipartisan vote of 256 to 164. That was after Trump tweeted later this morning, this time supporting the bill. His spokeswoman denied there was any conflict between his earlier and later tweets. The Senate's expected to pass the extension as well next week. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.