House votes to renew FISA spying tool after earlier Republican revolt

April 12, 2024
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WASHINGTON — The House voted to renew a powerful surveillance program on Friday, two days after a band of 19 conservative privacy hawks revolted against Republican leadership and blocked the legislation on the floor when their demands were not met.

The vote was 273-147 and was overwhelmingly bipartisan, with both Republicans and Democrats voting in favor of the legislation. Of those who supported the legislation, 126 were Republicans and 147 Democrats. It followed a dramatic vote to narrowly reject an amendment that would have required a warrant for surveillance in more situations.

Earlier Friday, the conservative rebels ended their blockade and allowed the bill to move forward after striking a deal with Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and his team. Under the agreement, the reauthorization period of the spy powers — known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — would be cut to two years from the original proposed five years.

Republicans said that would give former President Donald Trump, who said this week he wants to “kill” FISA, a chance to make his mark on the law if he wins back the White House.

“We just bought President Trump an at bat,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a top Trump ally and one of the 19 rebels. “The previous version of this bill would have kicked reauthorization beyond the Trump presidency. Now President Trump gets an at bat to fix the system that victimized him more than any other American.”

Ahead of the vote, Johnson set up a secured room just off the floor where lawmakers could review classified documents.

The conservatives also secured a floor vote on a bipartisan amendment led by one of the 19, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., that would require law enforcement to obtain warrants to search the communications of U.S. citizens and permanent residents collected while surveilling foreigners overseas. And Johnson agreed to hold a floor vote next week on a bill by Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, that would require the government to obtain a warrant to purchase private data of U.S. citizens from brokers.

“I’m disappointed with where we’re at today, but it was going to be worse,” Davidson said in an interview after voting for the procedural rule Friday that he had helped tank two days earlier. “We don’t work in a think tank, we work in a legislature, so you make progress where you can.”

The bill is expected go to the Senate next week ahead of an April 19 deadline to renew or sunset FISA Section 702. Some Republicans have blocked transmission to the Senate as they use a procedural move to try to force another vote on the entire bill.

The successful House vote comes just hours before Johnson is set to meet with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for an event on “election integrity”; GOP lawmakers said they expect FISA will be among the other issues they will discuss.

Strange bedfellows for privacy rights

Prior to passing the bill, the House voted 212-212 on bipartisan amendment proposed by a rare left-right coalition designed to rein in the government’s use of warrantless surveillance of U.S. persons. The tie vote meant the amendment failed. In addition to Biggs, it was championed by Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; and Davidson.

The White House fought to kill the amendment, with Attorney General Merrick Garland and national security adviser Jake Sullivan making calls to lawmakers on Friday morning encouraging them to vote against it, said two sources familiar with the calls.

In the end, 128 Republicans and 84 Democrats voted for the amendment. Johnson voted against it, earning more ire from his conservative critics.

“Speaker Johnson was the final vote. He was the one that caused the warrant amendment to fail,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who is threatening to oust him from power. “And I think that’s going to tell a lot of people what I’ve been saying is true: What’s the difference between Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Johnson, and there’s not one.”

Officials told lawmakers it would prohibit the government “from accessing lawfully collected information already in its possession to identify and disrupt critical threats to the American people,” according to talking points one source provided to NBC News, which added that the measure would make the U.S. “less safe.”

Nadler, in a rare clash with the Biden White House, called the FISA bill “completely inadequate” and said it “does not represent real reform” without the warrant requirement. After he spoke, Jayapal, the Progressive Caucus chair, took to the floor Friday to dispute the intelligence community’s arguments for the necessity of the current law, calling the changes a needed balance between protecting security and civil liberties. She said Congress must end a “back door search loophole” that impedes the privacy of Americans.

Jordan, in a moment of camaraderie with his usual foes, said he wants to “thank the Democrats” on his committee for “working together to defend a fundamental principle.”

But Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, sided with the White House and said passage of the amendment would mean the “Communist Party in China, Hezbollah and Hamas get to fully recruit in the United States” as it’d require a warrant for the government to access their communications.

“We would go blind,” Turner said. “Our nation would be unsafe.”



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