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House trips up again in spy authority reauthorization push

Privacy-focused Republicans help vote down rule on Section 702 bill

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., right, wraps up the House GOP news conference Wednesday that touched on reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. On the left are Rep. Blake D. Moore, R-Utah, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., right, wraps up the House GOP news conference Wednesday that touched on reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. On the left are Rep. Blake D. Moore, R-Utah, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House once again stumbled to get a floor vote on legislation that would reauthorize a powerful surveillance authority, as a group of Republicans aired concerns that it didn’t do enough to protect the privacy of Americans.

Republican leadership pushed this week to pass a bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire April 19.

But the House, on a 193-228 vote, Wednesday rejected a rule that would have set up the terms of floor consideration of the bill, adding more uncertainty into the reauthorization process for a program the intelligence community has called essential for national security.

Nineteen Republicans voted against the rule. Several aired concerns on the floor ahead of the vote that the current version of the bill does not include a provision to require the government to get a warrant before searching for the information of Americans.

The rule would have allowed for a vote on an amendment that would add a warrant requirement to Section 702, an issue that has fractured both House conferences and spurred a fierce standoff between the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.

But several Republicans expressed a reluctance for the House to move on a bill that could expand some authority without knowing for sure if the warrant requirement would be adopted to constrict that authority.

“A clean extension is arguably preferable to an expansion with a pre-cooked determination that we’re not going to pass a warrant protection,” Rep. Chip Roy, R–Texas, told reporters after the vote.

Democrats voted against the rule as well. The rule also would have provided for consideration of a partisan measure that would criticize the Biden administration’s approach to security on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Section 702 authority allows the U.S. government to collect digital communications of foreigners located outside the country. But the program has also been the subject of controversy because it sweeps up the communications of Americans and allows the FBI to search through data without a warrant.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee, jumped into the debate early Wednesday morning. “KILL FISA, IT WAS ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME, AND MANY OTHERS,” Trump wrote on social media. “THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!!!”

A Justice Department watchdog found “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in court applications to allow for continued surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, although that was under a different section of the FISA law than Section 702.

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., defended the law at a press conference Wednesday morning as a critically important piece of intelligence and law enforcement, and that the bill balanced privacy protections with national security.

“We can’t allow a critical tool like this to just expire and go out of use,” Johnson said.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., pledged to vote against the rule if it did not allow the House to vote on legislation from Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, that aims to address law enforcement purchasing personal data from data brokers.

Gaetz said he wanted votes on things that “will fix the problem.”

“If Speaker Johnson is unwilling to fix FISA, we are left wondering what he is indeed willing to fix,” he said.

The rule vote reflects broader discontent from the right flank of Johnson’s conference over the Section 702 reauthorization process.

But Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., is a warrant requirement supporter and expressed worry about voting down the rule.

“I’m concerned we’ll never get a standalone vote to add warrants, and Johnson will bring back warrantless FISA by suspending rules (bad),” Massie wrote in a post on social media.

It’s unclear how things might play out in the Senate, where lawmakers have proposed their own versions of Section 702 reauthorization legislation.

Last month, Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin outlined a reauthorization bill that would renew the authority but also require court approval for certain information collected under the program. The Illinois Democrat has pitched the bill as a compromise measure.

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