Senate reaches deal to pass FISA reauthorization by deadline

After hours of stalemate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced a deal Friday evening to vote on a package of amendments to a House-passed bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s (FISA) warrantless surveillance program, putting it on a trajectory to pass before a midnight deadline.

The expanded surveillance powers authorized by FISA’s controversial Section 702 were due to expire at the end of the day Friday and appeared to be headed for a lapse as senators wrangled over a package of amendments to require warrants to review the communications of Americans swept up in the FISA database among other changes.

“We have good news for America’s national security. Senators have reached an agreement that clears the way to approve FISA reauthorization tonight,” Schumer announced on the Senate floor.

The bill would reauthorize the program for two years, instead of five years, as Senate and House leaders initially hoped. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) cut the length of the reauthorization by three years to placate conservative critics in his conference.

Senators earlier in the day were sounding pessimistic about the prospects of a deal.

“We could go dark over the weekend,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Intelligence Committee, warned Friday afternoon.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the lead sponsor of the amendment to require warrants for any review of Americans’ communications swept up in the 702 database, told reporters Friday afternoon that he hadn’t even been approached about a potential agreement on amendments.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) took to the floor shortly after Schumer announced the deal to urge colleagues to vote down any amendments to the bill.

He warned making changes at this late stage would require sending the bill back to the lower chamber, which would mean it would have no chance of becoming law before the deadline.

“Any amendment to this bill at this moment is the equivalent of killing the bill,” he added. “Already telecom companies, a number, have contacted the Department of Justice saying if this bill expires, as it will at midnight, they will stop complying with 702.”

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