The visit was more than just a courtesy call. With the legal authority for the NSA's phone data dragnet set to expire June 1, Rogers needs his enemies. Reformers are girding for a fight with congressional leaders, and the looming deadline to reauthorize several Patriot Act provisions gives the former group unprecedented leverage.
This time, "we're in a different moment. ... This is the first reauthorization debate that's happened post-Snowden," said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, who was referring to whistleblower Edward Snowden's exposure of the spy agency's mass surveillance in 2013.
But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are dead-set against major reforms. So the legislative battle lines are drawn -- and no one knows who will win.
Civil liberties advocates in Congress almost certainly don't have the votes to kill the phone surveillance program outright. They may, however, be able to force a significant change supported by the White House: shifting the responsibility to hold onto Americans' phone records from the NSA to the phone companies.
President Barack Obama's administration has already asked for and received new limits from the secret court that permitted the bulk phone data collection in the first place, forcing the NSA to obtain approval from a judge for searches and limiting phone inquiries to two connections away from the initial search term. Congress could enshrine those limits into legislation.
Then there are the other surveillance programs authorized by the Patriot Act's expiring Section 215, which allows the government to seek companies' business records as part of foreign intelligence investigations.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA is building a massive database of international money transfers that includes data on many Americans.
Some reform groups opposed legislation sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) last year on the grounds that it would not have limited non-telephone spy programs. But Senate Republicans filibustered even that bill's more modest reforms in November, setting a probable ceiling for changes in this Congress.
Since the November vote, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told HuffPost, the issue of NSA reform has been lingering in three corners of Capitol Hill: the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee and a joint effort of both chambers’ Judiciary committees. But none of those panels seems particularly likely to do much before the last minute.
Note EU-Digest: the obvious excuse for renewing the Patriot Act will obviously be : the Middle East, Ukraine, Kenya, Yemen, etc., etc., and spying will go on happily ever after.
Read more: Congress Girds For Patriot Act Fight Over NSA Spying