House Set to Vote on FISA Reform Days After GOP Floor Revolt

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

On Friday, the House advanced the Reforming Intelligence and Surveillance Act, which would extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the United States’ warrantless surveillance program, opening debate on the bill just two days after a group of conservatives blocked an earlier version of the legislation. 

On Wednesday, tensions peaked in the Republican conference as 19 House Republicans thwarted a procedural vote following a directive from former President Donald Trump to oppose the bill. 

On Trump’s Truth Social platform, he wrote,

Kill FISA, it was illegally used against me, and many others. They spied on my campaign!!! DJT

The floor revolt served as an embarrassing setback to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and prompted lawmakers to initiate negotiations for reauthorizing surveillance powers before FISA’s expiration next Friday. 

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The recent challenges to Johnson’s leadership, led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), have raised concerns about his potential removal from Speakership, echoing the circumstances of his predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who became the first House Speaker in history to be ousted, in October. Before the procedural vote on Wednesday, Johnson made a final appeal for the bill’s passage, emphasizing the need to address concerns of abuse without entirely discontinuing the surveillance program.

At the heart of the debate is Section 702 of FISA, permitting warrantless surveillance of foreigners abroad, which proponents argue is crucial to combat terrorism, but this also results in the incidental collection of communications with Americans. Critics argue that this broad surveillance approach can lead to the unwarranted collection of the personal data of innocent Americans, infringing on their constitutional rights to privacy and due process.

Recent revelations of FBI analysts misusing this data have sparked calls for stricter oversight, including demands for warrants before searching in a vast intelligence repository for Americans’ information. This concern was further amplified by allegations such as the FBI inappropriately searching for the name of a member of Congress, Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL), in foreign surveillance data. Similar revelations came in a court order released last year, detailing the FBI’s warrantless use of the intelligence repository against individuals involved in the racially-fueled protests of 2020 and the January 6, 2021, riot in the U.S. Capitol.

Following negotiations, the legislation was amended to reauthorize FISA for two years instead of five, appeasing some GOP holdouts. Additionally, leaders agreed to vote on a bill by Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) that requires a warrant before the government buys data about U.S. citizens from data brokers.

Another amendment slated for a vote on Friday vote mandates a warrant before the government reviews data collected on Americans pursuant to Section 702 activities. 

With the changes and commitments made, several GOP holdouts have indicated that they will support the reauthorization on Friday, but some Republican opponents, notably the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, argue that these revisions are inadequate. The fate of the bill, though supported by the Biden administration and Johnson, remains uncertain in terms of securing enough votes for passage.

The final vote on the legislation, along with several proposed amendments, is scheduled for approximately 11:45 a.m. EDT on Friday.


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