House shoots down warrant requirement for surveillance searches in dramatic tie vote

The House rejected a controversial proposal to prohibit warrantless surveillance searches by the federal government, dealing a blow to hard-line Republicans who pushed to have the proposal included in the broader national surveillance law that is set to expire next week. 

The amendment narrowly failed in a 212-212 vote on Friday, falling short of the majority threshold needed to include it in the surveillance law. The vote is a loss for hard-right lawmakers who fought to have the amendment in the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, threatening to shoot down the surveillance law altogether if it was not included. 

The narrow vote came down to the wire on Friday, with members scrambling on the floor to ensure their votes were counted. Shortly before the vote was passed, lawmakers were seen yelling on the floor to keep the vote open as long as possible.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), would have required the federal government to obtain a warrant before executing data searches of U.S. communications in the FISA 702 database. The measure includes exceptions for “imminent threats to life or bodily harm, consent searches, or known cybersecurity threat signatures.”

The warrant requirement has been at the center of the FISA reauthorization debate as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have disagreed on whether the measure should be adopted.

Some Republicans demanded to include some sort of restrictions for federal searches, accusing the FBI of misusing the tool to spy on select U.S. citizens. That demand became even more prominent on Wednesday when former President Donald Trump came out against the reauthorization of FISA, claiming it was misused to spy on his presidential campaign in 2020. 

The amendment had mixed support from both Democrats and Republicans but failed to reach the majority threshold needed to pass, with several lawmakers arguing the measure would impede the federal government from thwarting criminal activity and interfere with national security efforts. 

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“If you just read the front page of [the bill], it clearly says that it is about the intelligence that’s gathered from foreigners abroad. This is not about Americans’ data. Americans’ data are safe, constitutionally protected,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) said. “Americans’ constitutional rights are preserved in the Constitution. This amendment undermines our security by giving Americans’ constitutional rights here in the United States to foreign adversaries.” 

The exclusion of the amendment makes the passage of the FISA reauthorization more likely, as Democrats would have likely opposed the underlying legislation if it included the warrant requirements. Even if it was included and managed to pass the House and Senate, the White House came out in opposition to the amendment on Thursday night, making it unclear whether President Joe Biden would have signed it into law.

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