President Obama on Thursday met with key lawmakers to discuss the National Security Agency's surveillance practices, with the White House saying he was “close” to a final decision on possible reforms.
Obama is weighing 46 recommendations from an outside panel he tasked with reviewing the NSA’s monitoring and collection of phone and internet metadata. The president has said he would review those recommendations and announce what steps he would take to increase oversight and limits on the NSA’s practices.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Obama was “fairly far along” and “close to the end of this review.”
Obama met with 16 lawmakers at the White House, including the chairmen of both House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
“Today President Obama met with Members of Congress to discuss the Administration’s ongoing review of signals intelligence programs, including our study of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies report,” said the White House in a statement after the meeting.
“This meeting was an opportunity for the President to hear from the Members about the work they have been doing on these issues since they last met and solicit their input as we near the end of our internal review,” the statement added. “The President thanked the Members for their ongoing work on these challenging issues.”
Reports suggested that Obama could announce his proposals as early as next week. Carney though provided no date, saying only that the president “will be giving remarks on his conclusions and the steps he wants to take over the next couple of weeks or before Jan. 28” — the date of his State of the Union address.
The issue places the president in a difficult spot, with both liberal Democrats and many conservative Republicans urging tougher restrictions on the NSA’s spying.
While accepting that new rules may need to be implemented, Obama has also praised the NSA, saying he was certain they were not engaged in unlawful “snooping” and claiming that their surveillance has thwarted terror attacks and saved lives.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told reporters Thursday that Obama needed to do something "more dramatic" to overhaul the NSA, saying initial reports about the president's reforms would do little to significantly alter the secretive agency.
"You have constitutional questions being decided in secret," Paul complained to reporters at the White House after an Obama economic event he attended.
"James Clapper, by all accounts, committed perjury," Paul added of Capitol Hill testimony given by the director of national intelligence in which the administration official suggested the government wasn't storing Americans' information.
Paul said Clapper "greatly harmed the credibility of the intelligence agencies" and made it "hard for us to believe them."
Ultimately, Paul said, the constitutionality of the NSA programs should be addressed by the Supreme Court.
The AP reported on Thursday that Obama may limit the NSA's access to phone records and place new restrictions on spying on foreign leaders.
The NSA came under scrutiny after leaks from former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the agency’s surveillance programs.
This story was published at 1:48 p.m. and has been updated.