President Obama plans to huddle with top congressional critics and defenders of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs this Thursday as he finalizes changes to the nation's controversial spying policies before the end of the month.
The White House is intentionally keeping the meeting small as Obama discusses his proposals to help make the sweeping spying programs more transparent and palatable to the public, National Journal first reported Tuesday.
Obama has invited the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees, as well as some of the NSA's top critics, including Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Intelligence Committee, and her House counterpart, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., both plan to attend, aides said.
White House staff will hold a separate meeting on the same topic for Congressional staff on Wednesday.
The discussion is expected to be spirited with several outspoken critics attending. Wyden and Udall have collaborated on legislation to prohibit the bulk collection of Americans' email and phone records and install a civil liberties advocate to argue significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a federal court that oversees government agency requests for surveillance warrants.
Sensenbrenner is the original author of the law known as the Patriot Act that expanded government spying capabilities after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says the federal government took the Patriot Act too far and blames Congress for falling down on its job of overseeing the NSA.
In December, Sensenbrenner accused the House and Senate intelligence committees of becoming “cheerleaders” for the NSA and government surveillance programs. He specifically derided Feinstein's bill aimed at reforming the NSA as a “joke” and said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be prosecuted for “lying” to Congress about the extent of the nation's surveillance programs.
While he's unlikely to satisfy his top critics, Obama is gathering the members with the most interest in the NSA to serve as a sounding board for changes to surveillance policies he plans to announce ahead of his Jan. 28 State of the Union address.
A presidential task force released 46 recommended changes to the surveillance policies in December, and Obama has said he would review them and respond in January.
The nation's surveillance practices have faced an onslaught of criticism over the last six months after NSA leaker Edward Snowden began revealing classified details of the agency's sweeping Internet and phone monitoring programs to several media outlets.