House FISA bill tanked by hard-liners in latest blow to Speaker Johnson’s leadership

Hard-line House Republicans tanked a procedural rule vote that would begin debate on reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, effectively leaving the House at a standstill just nine days before the key surveillance law expires. 

Republican leaders hoped to advance the FISA reform on Wednesday, but the measure failed after 19 Republicans joined all Democrats in tanking the rule. The vote, which failed 193-228, is the latest blow to Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) leadership, which is already on the rocks as he faces several legislative challenges and a threat to remove him from his top position. 

Advancing a rule is a procedural move that is typically voted on along party lines and rarely fails on the House floor. However, House Republicans have weaponized the procedure several times over the last year, voting to stall action on the floor whenever they disagree with GOP leadership.

Former President Donald Trump came out in opposition to the FISA proposal earlier Wednesday. Republican hard-liners tanked three rule votes under former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and Wednesday’s failed vote marks the fourth under Johnson. 

The failed vote also puts lawmakers in a time crunch as the foreign surveillance bill is scheduled to expire on April 19, giving Congress just over a week to pass some sort of extension. Although lawmakers largely agree the bill must be renewed, they disagree on what reforms should be made. 

Warrant requirements have emerged as the most contested matter, with several Republicans coming out in opposition after an amendment to force federal agencies to obtain a court order to purchase commercially owned data of U.S. citizens was stripped from the legislation. 

Several House Republicans posted on X earlier this week to express their opposition with the message: “Get a warrant. #FISA.”

The fight over government surveillance reform has been years in the making after Trump signed into law a six-year reauthorization with mild reforms in 2018.

In the lead-up to Section 702’s expiration, the Judiciary and Intelligence committees introduced competing proposals with a slate of new reforms that primarily involved tightening restrictions on the FBI’s use of the surveillance program. However, due to disagreements between Republicans on which proposal to move forward with, lawmakers passed a short-term extension late last year until they could agree on a path forward.

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Although the two committees largely agreed on most of the reforms, they have remained deeply divided on whether to require FBI agents to obtain warrants when using Section 702 to search data belonging to U.S. persons. The Intelligence Committee opposes warrant requirements. 

It’s not yet clear how lawmakers will move forward with the FISA reauthorization. Johnson faces several options, such as bringing the bill to the floor under suspension or allowing the Senate to take the lead, but the speaker has not indicated what he will do. 

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