McConnell Calls for ‘Sensible Improvements’ to House-Passed FISA Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor today urging members to support FISA amendments:

“I wish we’d been able to move the cloture and amendment votes we’ll consider today to yesterday.

“I made an offer to do so because it was hard to see the point in allowing yet another day to elapse when everyone’s already had a chance to say their piece, when the end game appeared obvious to all, and when the need to move forward in a thoughtful but expeditious manner seemed clear.
“But this is the Senate. Members are entitled to different views, and members have tools to assert those views.
“It’s the nature of the body where we work.

“Moreover, it’s important to remember that it was not just the denial of consent that’s brought us to where we are. The kind of short-term extension that would have provided the Senate with the time and space it needed to advance bipartisan compromise legislation through regular order was also blocked in a floor vote.
“But what’s happened has happened. We are where we are.
“Now is the time to put all that in the past and work together diligently to make some discrete and sensible improvements to the House bill. Before scrapping an effective system that has helped protect us from attack in favor of an untried one, we should at least work toward securing some modest degree of assurance that the new system can, in fact, actually work.
“The Obama Administration already told us that it would not be able to make any firm guarantees in that regard, at least the way the bill currently reads. And the way the bill currently reads, there's also no requirement for the retention and availability of significant data for analysis.
“These are not small problems. The legislation we're considering proposes major changes to some of our nation’s most fundamental and necessary counter-terrorism tools.
“That's why the revelations from the Administration shocked many Senators, including a lot of supporters of this legislation.
“It’s simply astounding that the very government officials charged with implementing the bill would tell us, both in person and in writing, that if it turns out this new system doesn’t work, well, then, they’ll just come back and let us know. This is worrying for many reasons, not the least of which is that we don’t want to find out the system doesn't work in a far more tragic way.

“That's why we need to do what we can today to ensure this legislation is as strong as it can be under the circumstances. Here are the kind of amendments I hope every Senator will join me in supporting today:
“One that would allow for more time for the construction and testing of a system that does not yet exist.

“Another that would ensure the Director of National Intelligence is charged with at least reviewing and certifying the readiness of the system.

“And another that would require simple notification if telephone providers — the entities charged with holding data under this bill — elect to change their data-retention policies. Let me remind you that one provider has already said expressly, and in writing, that it would not commit to holding the data for any period of time under the House-passed bill unless otherwise compelled by law. So this amendment represents the least we can do to ensure we’ll be able to know, especially in an emergency, whether the dots we need to connect have been wiped away.
“We'll also consider an amendment that would address concerns we've heard from the non-partisan Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts — in other words, the lifetime federal judges who actually serve on the FISA court. In a recent letter, they wrote that the proposed amicus provision ‘could impede the FISA Courts’ role in protecting the civil liberties of Americans.’
I’d ask that the full text of their letter be inserted into the record at the conclusion of my remarks.
“The bottom line is this: The basic fixes I've just mentioned are common sense. Anyone who wants to see the system envisioned under this bill actually work will want to support them. And anyone who has heard the Administration’s ‘we’ll-get-back-to-you-if-there’s-a-problem’ promise should support these modest safeguards too.
“We may have been delayed getting to the point at which we’ve arrived, but now that we’re here let’s work cooperatively, seriously, and expeditiously to move the best legislation possible and prevent any more delay or uncertainty.”

Related Issues: National Security