US Democrats pull surveillance bill after Trump veto threat

The legislation that would have extended United States foreign surveillance tools.

    The US Capitol building stands past Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC [Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg]
    The US Capitol building stands past Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC [Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg]

    The United States House of Representatives on Thursday dropped consideration of legislation that would have extended US foreign surveillance tools, after President Donald Trump threatened a veto and his fellow Republicans withdrew their support.

    "The two-thirds of the Republican Party that voted for this bill in March have indicated they are going to vote against it now," Representative Steny Hoyer said in a statement on Thursday, after a vote on the measure was unexpectedly postponed late on May 27.

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    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to members of the Democratic caucus saying she intends to hold negotiations with the Senate on a possible compromise bill that could be passed and sent to Trump.

    The Justice Department said it opposed the bill - which was originally written by Attorney General William Barr and members of Congress - because it had been changed in ways that would make it more difficult "to identify and track terrorists and spies".

    The president recently turned against the legislation, resurrecting assertions that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, had improperly conducted surveillance on Trump's 2016 campaign.

    The parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would have been renewed cover approval of warrants for business information, allow surveillance without establishing that a subject is acting on behalf of a violent group - the so-called "lone wolf" provision - and allow continued eavesdropping on a subject who has changed their cellular provider.

    Those legal authorities expired in March. FISA was first enacted by Congress after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

    US intelligence agencies and other backers of the measures say they are essential. Privacy hawks, both progressive Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans, oppose the measures because they do too little to protect Americans' civil liberties.

    Trump thanked Republicans on Twitter for their "incredibly important blockage" of the legislation.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency