Apr 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Mike Johnson looks to navigate spy powers fight ahead of GOP fireworks

 (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

With most eyes on whether he'll put Ukraine aid on the floor in the coming days, House Speaker Mike Johnson also faces a tough fight on reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Why it matters: House Republicans have a major split on how much to change the law, which allows the government to spy on noncitizens abroad.

Conservatives are pushing for an amendment that would implement warrant requirements, saying FISA has strayed from its origins.

  • "[I]t is continuously abused by state agencies to broadly spy on Americans. The FISA reform bill needs to be amended to place restrictions on the FBI and create transparency through the FISA process," Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) told Axios.

National security hawks โ€” who are confident the amendment will fail โ€” argue that warrant rules would hinder the ability to monitor threats in real time.

  • "It allows us to be able to keep Americans safe. This is not a warrantless surveillance of Americans," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."

๐Ÿงจ The two sides expect potential fireworks at the GOP's internal conference meeting Wednesday.

  • The provision expires April 19, giving some urgency to the push.

Zoom in: Johnson โ€” on rocky ground with conservatives following the passage of two government funding packages โ€” is selling the bill by noting it includes language to curb domestic surveillance.

  • The speaker also warned that Republicans could be jammed by the Senate if they fail to pass the legislation.
  • "If our bill fails, we will be faced with an impossible choice and can expect the Senate to jam us with a clean extension that includes no reforms at all. That is clearly an unacceptable option," Johnson said in letter sent to members of his conference Friday.

The bottom line: If the intra-GOP sales pitch falls flat, Johnson could work with Democrats again to pass a version of the bill with a two-thirds majority to avoid any lapses in the law.

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