Updated May 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats pull FISA reauthorization bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

House Democrats pulled legislation Thursday that would have renewed expired domestic surveillance laws and strengthened transparency and privacy protections amid broad opposition from President Trump, House GOP leadership and progressive Democrats.

Why it matters: The failure to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) comes as Trump continues to attack the intelligence community, which he claims abused the law to surveil his 2016 campaign and Trump administration officials.

The state of play: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who did not indicate when the bill might come up again, said that it had been pulled at the request of Speaker Nancy Pelosi after Republicans who previously supported reauthorizing the program "have indicated they are going to vote against it now" at the behest of Trump.

  • House Democrats had already delayed a planned Wednesday night vote.
  • "I hope all Republican House Members vote NO on FISA until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!" Trump tweeted Tuesday night. The president added in a tweet Wednesday evening that he would veto the bill if it was passed.
  • Trump's frustration with his intelligence community has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks following allegations of misconduct in the handling of the FBI's investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Former Obama administration officials deny any wrongdoing.

Details: The bill, titled the "USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020," would have reauthorized the lapsed surveillance tools through Dec. 1, 2023, and included changes aimed at better protecting those being surveilled by the government.

  • The legislation passed the Senate 80-16 earlier this month with strong bipartisan support, but faced intense criticism in the House.
  • After the Justice Department said it would recommend Trump veto the bill, House GOP leadership encouraged Republican members to vote against it.

What they're saying: During a House Republican press conference on Wednesday, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he thinks investigations into alleged FISA abuses during the 2016 presidential campaign should be completed before voting on the bill.

  • Meanwhile, opposition on the left also mounted this week, with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, announcing on Wednesday their intent to vote against the measure. They called it "far too narrow in scope" and said it would “leave the public vulnerable to invasive online spying and data collection."
  • On Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a leading voice on privacy issues, also shot down the bill following a statement from House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff on an amendment to limit the surveillance of internet search history.
  • But the House ultimately decided on Wednesday to strip the bill of that amendment, opting instead to vote on the Senate-passed version without changes. Wyden, as well as multiple Republican senators, voted in favor of the bill earlier this month.

The bottom line: In a Dear Colleague letter to House members on Thursday, Pelosi wrote that it was clear the bill would not have enough votes to override Trump's veto threat, so she felt it necessary to cancel the vote.

  • "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.

What's next: Pelosi said during a press conference on Wednesday that if Congress failed to approve the FISA bill, the House would send its original version, which it passed earlier this year, back to the Senate.

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