Updated Apr 10, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House GOP erupts over "dysfunction" after hardliners kill vote

Reps. Steve Scalise, Mike Johnson and Tom Emmer, wearing blue suits with white shirts and standing in front of a Capitol backdrop.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Speaker Mike Johnson and Majority Whip Tom Emmer. Photo: Julia Nikhinson/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

House Republicans' internal tensions reignited on Wednesday after a group of right-wing hardliners blocked a key federal surveillance bill from coming to a vote.

Why it matters: It marks more than a half-dozen times this Congress that Republicans' right flank ran the party's legislative agenda aground by revolting on a standard party-line procedural vote.

  • GOP lawmakers plan to meet for a special conference meeting at 4pm, according to one House Republican who predicted it will amount to an "airing of grievances with some angry people."

Driving the news: A group of 19 House Republicans — predominantly members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus — voted with Democrats to block the procedural measure, known as a "rule."

  • The underlying bill would renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance of non-Americans abroad.
  • But amid growing GOP skepticism of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, many Republicans pushed for substantial restrictions to protect Americans' privacy rights.

What they're saying: "This is dysfunction. Nobody can lead this place. Look at it. What have we ever been able to really get accomplished?" Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), a Freedom Caucus member who voted for the rule, told Axios.

  • Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) called the tactic "frustrating" and "moronic," telling Axios, "When they complain that the train's not on time … well, you guys are the ones blowing up the tracks."
  • Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told Axios: "It's my 1oth term and I've never seen that before. We have to govern. ... When I first came in, if you vote against the rule, there are consequences."
  • "I don't appreciate it. Don't, obviously, think that's great tactics," said Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Zoom in: Even some Republicans who said they opposed or had serious concerns about the FISA bill denounced their right-wing colleagues' tactics.

  • "The people that voted for me ... expect me to come here and do my job. And that is to say yes or no to a bill, not to weaponize a procedure," Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) said. "This is not how you govern."
  • Van Orden said he "fully intended to vote against the bill," but he "voted for the rule so I could vote against the bill. ... No one should be making that decision but me."
  • Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) said that "not allowing it to move forward ends our ability to ... adopt amendments to strengthen the provision and protect American civil liberties."

The other side: Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who voted against the rule, told reporters, "There were people that have problems with this and it was clear that it wasn't going to move."

  • Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), another defector, alleged Republican leadership "stacked the deck" against right-wing amendments to the bill.

What we're watching: McCaul predicted the bill will come up under a process known as suspension of the rules, which bypasses party-line procedural votes but requires a two-thirds majority to pass legislation.

  • "I anticipate that they will put the underlying bill with the reforms on suspension," the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair told Axios.
  • Garcia said he "hopes" the bill will be brought up under suspension: "That's what it should be."

Go deeper: GOP revolts against Mike Johnson, tanks vote on FISA spy bill

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional statements.

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