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Senate Republicans block bill pushing for NSA overhaul

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A bill to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone records failed on a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday after senior Republicans said it would benefit enemies of the United States, including Islamic State militants.

The “USA Freedom Act” was supported by an unusual coalition of Democrats and conservative Republicans concerned about Americans’ privacy, but failed 58 to 42, falling short of the 60 votes needed to move ahead.

The measure is unlikely to become law anytime soon, as Republicans will hold a majority of seats in the Senate after Jan. 1.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the future Senate Majority Leader, came out strongly against the bill in a Senate speech on Tuesday morning, concerns matched by several hawkish Republicans including former government officials.

“If our aim is to degrade and destroy ISIL, as the president has said, then that’s going to require smart policies and firm determination. At a minimum, we shouldn’t be doing anything to make the situation worse,” McConnell said.

The legislation was the first considered by the full Senate that addressed privacy concerns raised last year after revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showing U.S. intelligence was collecting and storing communications metadata, such as the records of millions of Americans’ telephone calls.

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Among other things, the bill would have required the NSA to ask a communications company for records of a specific person when investigating a terrorism case, rather than indiscriminately sweeping up records.

The House of Representatives passed a similar, but less restrictive, version of the bill earlier this year. The White House had supported the legislation, denying assertions that it would benefit terrorist groups.

The measure is not likely to be taken up again anytime soon. Republican successes in elections on Nov. 4 gave the party control of a majority of seats in the Senate and a larger majority in the House starting in January.

Many U.S. technology companies also sought the changes after seeing their business suffer as foreign governments worried data might be handed over to American intelligence.

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A group of them, including AOL Inc, Apple Inc, Facebook Inc, Google Inc, Microsoft Corp, Twitter Inc and Yahoo Inc, had sent a letter urging the Senate to pass the bill.

The bill’s backers vowed not to give up. “I will continue to fight to preserve our constitution and our rights as Americans,” said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the bill’s lead sponsor, after its defeat.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by David Storey, Dan Grebler and Ken Wills)

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Retired admiral could pose serious threat if he decides to run against Iowa Republican: report

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On Wednesday, Iowa Starting Line reported that Ret. Adm. Michael Franken is in talks with state and national Democrats about challenging GOP Sen. Joni Ernst.

Franken, who has served as Deputy for Military Operations for AFRICOM, Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, and Chief of Legislative Affairs for the Department of the Navy, hails from Sioux Center, a town in the deeply conservative northwest part of the state.

Ernst, who first gained national attention for her 2014 campaign ad about castrating hogs, is a reliable vote for President Donald Trump in the Senate, and the president's poor approval ratings in Iowa have left Democrats hopeful that they can defeat her.

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‘This American dream’: Pain overwhelms family of drowned migrants

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"They had this American dream," sobbed Rosa Ramirez after images of her drowned son and granddaughter, discovered face-down on the banks of the Rio Grande between Mexico and the United States, shocked the world on Wednesday.

The poignant pictures of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his toddler daughter Valeria -- not yet two years old -- has sparked outrage back home in El Salvador, where around 200 migrants like them leave for the United States daily, preparing to take similar risks.

"The pain has been immense. I still can't believe that my boy and my little granddaughter are dead, they only wanted to get to the United States.... they had this American dream -- to achieve a better life," Oscar's mother told AFP.

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Venezuela government says thwarted attempted ‘coup’

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Venezuela's socialist government said Wednesday it had derailed an attempted coup, claiming the United States, Colombia and Chile colluded in a military plot to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro and install a general and former defense minister in his place.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the plan involved active and retired army officers and was to have been executed between Sunday and Monday this past weekend.

"We were in all the meetings to plan the coup d'Etat. We were in all the conferences," Rodriguez said, suggesting that government informers had infiltrated the alleged plotters during planning meetings.

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