House fails to pass procedural vote on FISA in blow to GOP

Written by on April 11, 2024

Tetra Images – Henryk Sadura/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — A key procedural vote on a bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act failed on the House floor on Wednesday, another sign of Republican infighting under Speaker Mike Johnson’s leadership.

Nineteen Republicans broke ranks with party leadership and voted against the measure, despite urging from Johnson that the legislation reformed the FISA program and is necessary for national security. The final vote was 193-228.

“We will regroup and formulate another plan,” Johnson told reporters after the defeat. “We cannot allow Section 702 of FISA to expire. It’s too important to national security. I think most of the members understand that.”

“It’s never helpful for the majority party to take down its own rule,” he added.

FISA is a federal law that establishes procedures for intelligence gathering of foreign nationals, but sometimes results in the collection of data on Americans who are in contact with those surveilled individuals.

Hard-line Republicans are opposed to reauthorizing FISA without an amendment that would require the intelligence community to obtain an additional warrant to access the data of those Americans. Some civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, have also pushed for similar reforms. The bill voted on Wednesday didn’t include the warrant amendment.

The requirement of an additional warrant, the intelligence community has warned, could create a massive backlog in the FISA process and effectively shut down the program.

Former President Donald Trump ramped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to oppose the legislation as he weighed in on the matter ahead of the vote.

In a post on his conservative social media site, Trump said to “KILL FISA” as part of his grievances against the FBI’s handling of surveillance against Carter Page, a former adviser to his campaign.

Johnson tried to sell House Republicans on the FISA legislation during a closed-door conference meeting earlier Wednesday despite growing opposition, according to several members.

This is the fourth rule vote that’s failed during Johnson’s six months as speaker, an embarrassment for House Republican leadership.

Every Democrat also voted against this procedural vote, a common practice in the House where the minority party votes against the procedural votes of the majority.

Democratic leadership and the White House have vocally supported FISA reauthorization and a majority of Democrats would likely ultimately vote to extend FISA when the legislation is brought up for an official vote.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking with reporters at the White House on Tuesday, also made his case for Congress to reauthorize FISA.

“If we lost 702 [of FISA], we would lose vital insight into precisely the threats Americans expect us in government to identify and counter,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan proceeded to list off some examples: “Terrorist threats to the homeland, fentanyl supply chains bringing deadly drugs into American communities, hostile governments’ recruitment of spies in our midst, transnational repression by authoritarian regimes, penetrations of our critical infrastructure, adversaries’ attempts to illicitly acquire sensitive dual use and military commodities and technology, ransomware attacks against major American companies and nonprofits, Russian war crimes and more.”

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