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Senate reaches deal to vote on controversial spy powers

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The Senate agreed to a deal to vote on extending an expiring foreign surveillance law on Friday evening, an agreement that puts Congress on track to avoid a weekend expiration of a key program.

The legislation, which reauthorizes Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, has already passed the House and after passing the Senate will go to President Joe Biden for his signature after a prolonged congressional battle over access to Americans’ information.

“We have good news for national security,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as he announced the deal. “Allowing FISA to expire would have been dangerous.”

Senate leaders urgently warned senators not to go over the midnight authority deadline as the chamber haggled over amendments, warning it would endanger national security that terrorists could exploit and risk a loss of authority in the program. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put the choice in stark terms on Friday morning, saying the choice before the Senate amounted to: “Pass the House reform bill, or give free reign to foreign intelligence operatives and terrorists to target America.”

So did the Biden administration, which worried that a lapse would mean private companies could fight data collection practices. Though some members argued the law could briefly expire with little consequence, that scenario isn’t “anything to be trifled with. So any temporary lapse is serious,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

In typical Senate fashion, the chamber took it right up to the brink of a midnight deadline as senators haggled over amendments. Several different bipartisan coalitions sought to require warrants to access the incidental collection of Americans’ communications and scuttle a provision changing which data providers would have to participate in the program.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), whose warrant amendment drew particular opposition from the Biden administration, said the Intelligence Community “has been against any change” in the 702 program. Indeed, Senate leaders are preparing to defeat Durbin’s amendment and others, in part because changing the bill at this late stage would require the bill to go back to the House and cause a brief shutdown of the law.

While Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said he was “sympathetic” to some of the amendments, it was too late to try and rewrite the bill when up against such a tight timeline.