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Speaker Johnson Pulls Surveillance Bill After House Intel Lawmakers Fold

speaker-johnson-pulls-surveillance-bill-after-house-intel-lawmakers-fold
Speaker Johnson Pulls Surveillance Bill After House Intel Lawmakers Fold

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) announced on Wednesday that the House will no longer consider a government surveillance bill after the House Intelligence Committee was “smoked” by pro-reform lawmakers.

Raj Shah, the deputy communications chief for Speaker Johnson, announced, “In order to allow Congress more time to reach consensus on how best to reform FISA and Section 702 while maintaining the integrity of our critical national security programs, the House will consider the reform and reauthorization bill at a later date.”

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s (R-MN) office announced in a press release that lawmakers would no longer vote on H.R. 7320, the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, this week.

This announcement followed as the House Rules Committee held a hearing on the legislation to reform Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is expiring on April 19.

Section 702 is a law that allows intelligence agencies to collect communications of targeted foreigners. It also may lead to targeted surveillance of Americans’ private communications, which privacy advocates consider a run around the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for a warrant to search Americans’ communications.

During the Rules Committee hearing, pro-privacy lawmakers such as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a member of the Rules Committee; Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), and others led a strong case as to why the FISA reauthorization should be strengthened with amendments to rein in government surveillance.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) proposed his amendment to the bill, which Breitbart News reported exclusively, that would require a warrant if government agencies wanted to search communications of Americans using Section 702. The amendment would also require a “description” of the query to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the Intelligence Committee of Congress, and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which oversee matters relating to government surveillance.

Others proposed an amendment that would block the federal government from exploiting a loophole that would allow them to purchase Americans’ private data through third-party data brokers. Biggs and others have called this a run around the Fourth Amendment.

Although pro-reform lawmakers offered amendments to the bill, which was part of the agreement on the compromise legislation, Intelligence Committee lawmakers did not offer amendments to the bill. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) and other Intelligence Committee members also did not appear at the Rules Committee hearing to argue their case.

Instead, some on Capitol Hill believe that the Intelligence Committee’s frustration with the Judiciary Committee members’ apparent victory made them cancel the whole FISA process.

“It’s absolutely wild that the Intel Committee skipped the Rules Committee, realized they’d lost the debate, and then pouted in a manner that made the Speaker pull any potential FISA compromise. Never seen anything like it,” one GOP aide told Breitbart News.

Elizabeth Goitein, the codirector of the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote, “HPSCI leaders have been waging a propaganda campaign all week to try to tank this and other reforms… but it’s not working. They saw the writing on the wall. In HPSCI’s view, if members won’t vote the way HPSCI tells them to on Section 702, they shouldn’t get to vote at all.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) wrote, “Just as we were winning the debate on requiring warrants for domestic spying in the FISA 702 reauthorization, the Speaker yanked the bill and cancelled the rest of Congress this week.”

???? UNBELIEVABLE ????

Just as we were winning the debate on requiring warrants for domestic spying in the FISA 702 reauthorization, the Speaker yanked the bill and cancelled the rest of Congress this week. https://t.co/kAX6RSxcq2 pic.twitter.com/u8R4cLkBe7

— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) February 14, 2024

Debate on the FISA 702 program and whether the government must get a warrant is happening in the @RulesReps committee now. @Jim_Jordan and Nadler are both testifying in favor of warrants. I’m posting this untrimmed video without captions so I can get it into the public quickly. pic.twitter.com/nXXC5Egkj2

— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) February 14, 2024

During the hearing, Jordan said that the ultimate way to rein in government surveillance abuse is to require a warrant. He also made it clear that he would not vote for the bill if it did not require a warrant to search the communications of American citizens:

I think you’re just underscoring the point that the ranking member and I frankly, the ranking member of the Rules Committee just made. it’s why we need a warrant. We can put all of the reforms in there and for all of the reforms but in the end, the real check is to have a separate but equal branch of government weigh in on the process and not just have the FBI, which we know time after time — Black Lives Matter there were searching, people who were at the Capitol on January 6th, they were searching, 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign, a member of Congress himself, so that’s why you need the warrant. I’m right where Ranking Member Nadler is. If the warrant requirement isn’t in the legislation, I ain’t supporting it, and I think there a lot of people that position because we understand what’s  happened in the last several years and we know it’s wrong and we know that’s not how this great country is supposed to operate.

House Rules Committee

Nadler agreed with Jordan, saying, “I really don’t care whether the person in the government is leaning left of center or right of center — the point is, that they shouldn’t have the power.”

Jordan exclaimed, “Exactly!”

Nadler said that the legislation being considered by the Rules Committee, which is favored by the House Intelligence Committee, would expand surveillance authorities.

Scanlon accused Republican leadership of “bypassing” the Judiciary Committee with this new legislation.

It could be that the legislation failed because the Intelligence Committee members did not show up to the Rules Committee hearing, or even that they were outclassed by the pro-reform lawmakers.

One source told the Daily Beast, “Jordan and Nadler presented at the Rules Committee. The Intel Committee didn’t even show up. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the Speaker pulled FISA. Talk about taking your ball and going home. Intel was smoked and they know it.”

From a staffer close to the FISA negotiations:

“Jordan and Nadler presented at the Rules Committee. The Intel Committee didn’t even show up. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the Speaker pulled FISA. Talk about taking your ball and going home. Intel was smoked and they know it.”

— Reese Gorman (@reesejgorman) February 14, 2024

Sean Moran is a policy reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.

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