U.S Politics: House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA


Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is cancelling a vote on a bill to reauthorize three intelligence programs, marking the second day in a row that the legislation has been punted.

“At the request of the Speaker of the House, I am withdrawing consideration of the FISA Act,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.

He also appeared to acknowledge that the bill would not have enough support to pass, noting that Republicans who previously supported it were now expected to oppose it.

“The two-thirds of the Republican Party that voted for the bill in March have indicated they are going to vote against it now. I am told they are doing so at the request of the president. I believe this to be against the security interest of the United States and the safety of the American people,” he said.

Hours earlier, Hoyer’s office initially listed the bill as expected to get a vote on Thursday, telling members “that a vote on passage of FISA Reauthorization is expected to occur today.”

It marks the second time in less than 24 hours that House Democratic leadership scrapped a planned vote on the bill, which reauthorizes lapsed provisions of the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 surveillance law, and make some changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, Court.

Democrats had initially been expected to vote on the bill on Wednesday, but Hoyer’s office announced late Wednesday night that they had pulled the bill amid growing opposition from Republicans and progressive defections.

In a letter to lawmakers on Thursday, Pelosi indicated that the House would try to negotiate a deal with the Senate on a final bill.

“It will be our intention to go to conference in order to ensure that all of the views of all Members of our Caucus are represented in the final product,” she wrote.

“Congress will work its will if Congress doesn’t want that, we have our original bill that we will send back over,” she told reporters during a press conference on Wednesday.

The decision to pull the bill is a U-turn from only Tuesday, when it appeared to be well on its way to approval before President Trump came out in opposition and progressives pulled their support.

Trump on Tuesday night urged Republicans to vote no on the bill, citing alleged abuses of surveillance power by the Obama administration to spy on his 2016 presidential campaign.

He then doubled down on the criticism Wednesday, pledging to veto the bill if it was passed.

House Republican leaders, who had backed the bill in March, on Wednesday also stepped up their opposition.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) leveled criticism of FISA during a morning appearance on Fox News.

“We just formally announced a whip against it, because number one, it’s not going to become law. Number two, there are still so many questions that need to be answered about real abuses that happened in the FISA system,” Republican Whip Rep Steve Scalise (La.) said at a press conference.

The House initially passed an initial version of the bill in March in a 278-136 vote after Attorney General Bill Barr and House leadership cut a deal that was backed by Trump allies including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

But the Senate changed the bill, requiring a second vote in the House, during its debate earlier this month by adding an amendment from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would let outside counsel review some FISA surveillance requests. Though the bill passed the Senate 80-16, the Justice Department signaled that it now opposed the legislation.

“The Senate … made significant changes that the Department opposed because they would unacceptably impair our ability to pursue terrorists and spies,” said Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd.

Pelosi took a swipe at the Justice Department on Thursday, writing in the “Dear Colleague” letter that “the administration—particularly some in the Justice Department—would like nothing better than to not have a bill.”

But Pelosi also faced growing opposition from progressives that made it unlikely she could pass the bill with only Democratic support. An initial version of the bill that passed in March garnered only 152 Democratic votes, well short of what she would need to overcome the Republican opposition in the wake of Trump’s veto threat.

An amendment that was initially modeled after one offered by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) to require a warrant before law enforcement could access web browsing history was first narrowed, then dropped from consideration entirely.

The provision from Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) only offered the protection to U.S. persons, and ultimately lost the support of Wyden after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) suggested it left leeway for Americans’ data to be collected during foreign intelligence investigations.

Pelosi said during a press conference Wednesday that leadership dropped the amendment because the Senate version could get the most votes.

Despite concerns with the amendment from progressives, stripping it entirely cost their support for the underlying bill.

Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), came out in opposition of the reauthorization shortly after the amendment was dropped. CPC leadership had voiced opposition to the reauthorization bill in March, but roughly two dozen members of the caucus voted for it at the time.