Apr 10, 2024 - Politics & Policy

GOP impasse persists after "pure chaos" vent session

House Speaker Mike Johnson, wearing a blue suit, white shirt, red tie and glasses, standing at a podium in front of an American flag and a sandstone brick wall.

House Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.

House Republicans emerged from a conference meeting on Wednesday afternoon with little clarity on how the House plans to move forward on a key federal surveillance bill that was blocked by right-wing hardliners.

Why it matters: The meeting saw GOP institutionalists call for punishment against Republicans who defect and vote against their party on procedural measures.

  • Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) stood up at the meeting and called for consequences for Republicans who break away on so-called rule votes.
  • McClintock confirmed to Axios he called for "severe sanction" against such lawmakers — including possibly stripping them of their "committee assignments or their membership in the Republican Conference," he said.

Driving the news: A group of 19 House Republicans, mostly members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, voted with Democrats against advancing the federal surveillance bill to debate and a vote on final passage.

  • The bill would reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows warrantless surveillance of non-Americans by U.S. intelligence agencies.
  • Many Republicans have pushed for reforms constraining the agencies to preserve Americans' civil liberties and crack down on alleged abuses.

What they're saying: "I don't even know what we're doing tomorrow … I genuinely don't know," said Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio).

  • Miller said of the meeting: "It was pure chaos. It wasn't productive at all. It's never productive. Members yell at each other … if anyone says there's a path forward on FISA, they're lying."
  • Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) chuckled when asked if the meeting was productive and said "no," telling Axios: "I don't think that, at the end, it changed anybody's mind."
  • Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said "it was somewhat animated" and that a clear pathway wasn't presented, adding: "Leadership needs to do that."

Zoom in: "The conference is heated, emotional," said Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). "I don't know if it's going to lead to a solution."

What to watch: Several lawmakers said they expect the bill to come up under suspension, a process that bypasses the need for party-line procedural votes but requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

  • It was not immediately clear whether votes would happen this week: Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), the vice chair of the GOP Conference, told Axios that leadership is "going to reevaluate tonight on timing."

The bottom line: "There are a lot of concerns, but the world is not perfect," said Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), who, looking on the bright side, said of the meeting: "In Venezuela and Cuba, these things do not happen."

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