Apr 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House passes modified spy bill after days of uncertainty

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The House passed a bill to reauthorize a key section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — which permits the government to spy on noncitizens overseas — by a 273-147 vote Friday after days of infighting between privacy and national security hawks.

Why it matters: The bill passed with a compromise — it would expire in two years instead of the proposed five. That would give Republicans another chance to revise the bill if former President Trump, a FISA critic, takes back the White House.

Zoom in: The House isn't quite done with the bill — Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) has pressed to have a recorded vote to unwind the bill's passage. A procedural vote is expected on Monday; it's likely to affirm the bill's approval and send it to the Senate.

  • The legislation's fate was unclear earlier Friday, as conservatives pressed to add warrant requirements to the spy bill. A proposed amendment adding such requirements failed in a tie vote.
  • Proponents of the amendment — led by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) — argued it was necessary to protect Americans' privacy rights and ensure Fourth Amendment rights aren't violated.
  • But critics argued the language would hinder the government's ability to assess threats in real time, saying the bill as written would codify and implement measures to prevent misuse and illegal spying on citizens for political purposes.

The intrigue: Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and his leadership team worked late into Wednesday evening and Thursday talking to defectors of the bill, trying to find consensus between the sharply divided conference.

  • Conservatives cited the exclusion of language on warrant requirements as their reason behind tanking a rule vote on Wednesday, demanding the language be brought to the floor.
  • "It gives a lot of people hope we will get another bite of the apple when Trump's president," one lawmaker said.
  • Leadership previously had to pull the bill twice due to infighting, with negotiators struggling for months to strike a compromise.

The big picture: Congress facing an April 19 deadline before the authority expires.

  • The additional procedural vote could give proponents of the warrant language an additional opportunity to tank the bill, with some hoping former President Trump could sway support in the other direction.
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