Johnson Faces Revolt Over Spy Tool Reauthorization

Trump urges Republicans to 'kill FISA'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 11, 2024 6:20 AM CDT
Conservative Revolt Blocks Reauthorization of Spy Tool
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, April 10, 2024.   (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

A bill that would reauthorize a crucial national security surveillance program was blocked Wednesday by a conservative revolt, pushing the prospects of final passage into uncertainty amid a looming deadline. The legislative impasse followed an edict earlier in the day from Donald Trump to "kill" the measure. The procedural vote to bring up the bill failed 193-228, with 19 Republicans joining Democrats in voting no. More, from the AP:

  • The bill. The bill in question would renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits the US government to collect without a warrant the communications of non-Americans located outside the country to gather foreign intelligence. US officials have said the tool, first authorized in 2008 and renewed several times since then, is crucial in disrupting terror attacks, cyber intrusions, and foreign espionage.

  • Opposition. The reauthorization is currently tied to a series of reforms aimed at satisfying critics who complained of civil liberties violations against Americans. But opponents have complained that those changes did not go far enough. Among the detractors are some of Johnson's harshest critics, members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. Pushback has been bipartisan, with Democrats like Sen. Ron Wyden, who have long championed civil liberties, aligning with Republican supporters of Trump.
  • "Kill FISA." In a post on Truth Social on Wednesday, Trump stated incorrectly that Section 702 had been used to spy on his presidential campaign. "Kill FISA," Trump wrote in all capital letters. "It was illegally used against me, and many others. They spied on my campaign." A former adviser to his 2016 presidential campaign was targeted for surveillance over potential ties to Russia under a different section of the law.
  • Expiry date. Though the program would technically expire on April 19, the Biden administration has said it expects its authority to collect intelligence to remain operational for at least another year, thanks to an opinion earlier this month from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
  • House Intelligence Committee reaction. "I'm just bewildered that a small number of members decided to take down the rule," Rep. Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Wednesday evening. The panel's Republican chairman, Rep. Mike Turner, also lamented that the bill had faltered, especially since he said it had unanimous support from a special working group. "There's a great deal of misinformation about FISA," Turner said. "It is not spying on Americans—in fact, that is absolutely prohibited."
  • What Johnson had to say. The Washington Post reports that when Johnson was asked if Trump was impeding the FISA reauthorization process, he said, "I'll just say that it's never helpful for the majority party to take down its own rules."
(More FISA stories.)

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