WASHINGTON — President Trump contradicted his own White House and top national security officials on Thursday in a Twitter post that criticized an important surveillance law just as Congress began debating whether to approve it. But less than two hours later, the president appeared to reverse himself, telling lawmakers to “Get smart!”
The contradicting tweets came just hours before the House was set to vote on an amendment to the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act. FISA, which Mr. Trump mentions in his tweet, stands for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Among other changes, the proposed amendment would require officials to obtain court warrants before hunting for, and reading, private emails and other messages of Americans that are swept up by the program that targets foreigners’ communications in counterterror and espionage cases.
Mr. Trump’s first tweet on the topic — which is at the center of a privacy-rights debate that broke out in 2013 following the leaks by intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden — appeared to encourage lawmakers to support limiting the law. The White House press secretary, late on Wednesday, issued a statement asking that lawmakers vote against it.
He was referring to an explosive and largely uncorroborated dossier that details claims about ties between Russia and Mr. Trump and his aides.
The tweet enraged Republican leaders on Capitol Hill who have been trying to chart a course to renew it, more or less intact, and left leaders in both parties scrambling to secure votes.
Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, asked Speaker Paul D. Ryan to pull the bill from consideration, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the request. But Republicans, battling a last-minute push from conservative lawmakers, appeared to be moving forward with a vote.
Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate have been counting on enough moderate Democrats and Republicans to stick together to extend the legal basis for the surveillance program with only minimal changes.
The vote will center on an expiring law, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, which permits the government to collect without a warrant from American firms, like Google and AT&T, the emails and other communications of foreigners abroad — even when they are talking to Americans.
Mr. Trump, who is known to watch Fox News while he is tweeting, posted his tweet shortly after a Fox News legal analyst appealed directly to the president during a Thursday morning segment about the upcoming House vote. The analyst, Andrew Napolitano, turned to television cameras and said, “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.” He added that Mr. Trump’s “woes” began with surveillance.
By midmorning, in a follow-up tweet, the president appeared to step back from supporting the limits that his own administration has been encouraging lawmakers to reject.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a Twitter post that the president’s tweet was “irresponsible.”