House Conservatives Tank FISA Bill in Blow to Speaker Johnson

The House voted on April 10 against a rule that would have opened the debate to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

House conservatives on April 10 tanked a procedural vote to advance a surveillance power reauthorization bill in protest of its lack of warrant requirements. The development is another blow to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who already faces an ouster threat from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

In a 193–226 vote, lawmakers decided not to advance Rep. Laurel Lee’s (R-Fla.) “Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act,” which would have extended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s (FISA’s) controversial Section 702 for a period of five years. The warrantless surveillance power is due to lapse on April 19.

Although such procedural votes normally advance along party lines, 19 Republicans joined all Democrats to block the bill, employing a tactic increasingly used by GOP factions to apply pressure on leadership.

Conservatives who voted against the bill’s advancement were Reps. Greene, Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Dan Bishop (R-N.C), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), Michael Cloud (R-Texas), Bob Good (R-Va.), Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Chip Roy (R-Texas.), Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Clay Higgins (R-La.), Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), Cory Mills (R-Fla.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Matt Rosendale (R-Md.), and Greg Steube (R-Fla.)

It’s yet another failure for Mr. Johnson, who in February had to pull a similar bill from the floor.

FISA Section 702 is one of several post-9/11 surveillance authorities that have come under scrutiny as some lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have raised concerns over its potential to violate the civil liberties of Americans.

Section 702, which was last authorized in 2018, was intended to permit warrantless surveillance of foreign nationals located outside the United States. However, in practice, it also sweeps up communications with U.S. citizens.

This has allowed FBI agents to extensively misuse the tool in recent years, such as by using it to search for the names of Black Lives Matter and Jan. 6, 2021, protesters.

The agency asserts that the program is vital to national security and that it has since undergone reform. Nevertheless, critics across the political spectrum have been apprehensive regarding the possibility of further constitutional infringements.

Former President Donald Trump earlier on April 10 called on House Republicans to “KILL FISA,” pointing to how the FBI misused Section 702 to spy on his 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Mills, who voted against the bill, said after the vote that the result “isn’t a defeat for Johnson; it’s a victory for Americans.”

Mr. Roy told reporters after the failed vote: “We’re here to stand up for the people who are tired of [the] situation … where the defense industrial complex, the Intel Committee, they get to see all this stuff behind closed doors and tell us what they’re going to do.

“The founders were very clear about what we need to fear … about how they will use foreign conflicts, foreign power as a smokescreen for going after our civil liberties. And that’s what we saw happening here.”

When the House Rules Committee on April 9 advanced the legislation for a floor vote, they left the issue of whether to require a warrant to a vote of Congress.

The warrant issue has spurred the creation of unlikely alliances, bringing such disparate lawmakers as House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) into agreement.

“When you have the history we have with this organization relative to not following the rules, we think you need a separate and equal branch of the government … to approve a warrant,” Mr. Jordan said in defense of the amendment during his opening remarks. “The warrant requirement has to be in the legislation or I don’t think we’ve done our job.”

Mr. Nadler agreed, saying that without a warrant requirement, the changes in Ms. Lee’s bill would be “so modest they would prove ineffective.”

The failure of the rule vote marks another loss for Mr. Johnson, who has already faced several failed rule votes during his roughly six months as speaker.

Earlier on April 10, the speaker expressed support for the bill, saying it enacted “sweeping changes” in the form of “over 50 reforms” to be put in place.

“It’s a critically important piece of our intelligence and law enforcement in this country because it allows us to continue killing Hamas terrorists,” Mr. Johnson said. “It allows us to track shipments of the least illicit chemicals used to make fentanyl, it allows us to protect US warships from attacks by Houthi rebels, allows us to stop China from stealing American intellectual property, and it prevents ransomware attacks against American companies.”

However, he also noted that FISA has been abused through “politicized FBI queries” and said the changes coming to the program would “prevent another Russia hoax debacle, among many other important reforms.”

“No more Steele dossiers; no more of the intelligence community relying on fake news reports to order a FISA order; no more collusion; these changes will make sure that that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Uncertainty on How to Move Forward

Following the failure of the rule vote, House Republican leadership canceled another vote scheduled for later in the day and instead called a conference meeting.

Lawmakers leaving the meeting said that it had been productive inasmuch as the two camps were able to discuss the issue and explain their position. However, there was little in the way of an action plan leaving the meeting.

“Nothing’s been resolved,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) told reporters as he left the meeting.

The same line was repeated almost verbatim by Mr. Burchett, who told reporters, “There’s nothing resolved.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) explained how the conference broke down on the issue, saying that there are roughly 40 to 50 lawmakers who passionately want the warrant requirement, 20 or 30 who passionately don’t, and the rest don’t mind either way.

Several lawmakers leaving the meeting did say that different courses of action were considered.

The easiest of those would be simply to punt the issue by authorizing a temporary extension of the program as lawmakers seek to resolve their differences. Such a move would likely pass both chambers of Congress easily, but would only delay ultimate consideration of a reform package.

Another option, one likely to anger many Republican privacy hawks, would be for Mr. Johnson to seek to pass the bill through a suspension of the rules, a move that would rely heavily on Democratic support.

Finally, lawmakers are still negotiating on allowing the bill to be brought back up with an amendment vote on the warrant issue.

The one thing that was clear from the meeting is that the House is far from reaching a consensus on the controversial issue.

Jackson Richman and Samantha Flom contributed to this report. 

From The Epoch Times

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