FISA reauthorization bill in jeopardy in House
"We will act upon it today one way or another," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
A vote on a bill to reauthorize three expired surveillance tools was in jeopardy after President Donald Trump called on Republicans to reject the measure in a late-night tweet.
"I hope all Republican House Members vote NO on FISA until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!" Trump tweeted Tuesday.
House Republican leaders jumped on the president's call to abandon the measure, with leaders actively whipping against the bill, even though a majority of Republicans initially voted for the bill in March when it first cleared the House.
The initial bill was drafted with input from Attorney General Bill Barr and garnered support from some of Trump's top Republican allies, including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The bill would reauthorize three expired surveillance programs under the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 intelligence reform law. It would also make some changes to the FISA court.
The Senate cleared the bill in a strong bipartisan vote late last week. The version the Senate passed added language to provide additional legal protections for some FISA warrant applicants.
The House is still expected to vote on the Senate version of the bill. Democratic leaders dropped plans to vote on an additional amendment late Wednesday that would further restrict law enforcement's ability to access Americans' web browsing history after bipartisan push-back that left passage of the bill in question.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill that the bill would be acted on "one way or another" by Wednesday.
"You'll see what we bring forward. We will act upon it today one way or another," she said, although she wouldn't comment on whether she thinks the bill will pass or which version of the bill will be voted on.
And by late Wednesday, members were advised that there were no more votes expected. The chamber will reconvene Thursday at 9 a.m.
Republican Whip Steve Scalise and President Trump spoke Wednesday morning about the bill, according to a Republican official. Trump, per the source, reiterated that the bill should not move forward in the House in its current form.
Even the Department of Justice weighed in Wednesday, urging the House to reject the bill.
"Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department's ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House. If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation," Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd said in a statement.
Late Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asked Democratic leadership to pull the bill from the floor. At a press conference on Wednesday, McCarthy called on Democrats to hit pause.
"Let's take a deep breath and work together and move it forward," McCarthy said. "If they bring it up, they are just playing politics."
"In moving forward today, it won't be signed into law. The president has questions, the attorney general has questions," McCarthy said. "Since the time we had passed the bill in the House, there has been more information coming forward with the FISA court being used in processes it shouldn't have been."
McCarthy said he believes investigations into alleged FISA abuses inside the FBI during the 2016 presidential election should be completed before any vote takes place on reauthorizing the legislation.
"I'm interested in making sure the FISA court has reform and is able to sustain itself, that it's looking at foreigners and not Americans," he said.
The vote in the House Wednesday would have been the first time members could vote by proxy. More than 70 Democrats had designated a proxy to vote on their behalf Wednesday amid the coronavirus pandemic.
McCarthy and other Republicans filed a lawsuit in a federal court Wednesday to stop the proxy vote from happening, citing constitutional concerns.
"We know that we have a responsibility [and that] it is essential that Congress does its work... For 231 years, never have we seen a proxy vote on the floor of the House. This challenges the Constitution only to protect and empower a speaker," McCarthy said.
"It violates the Constitution. It is a dereliction of duty by its members," he said. "It is essential that Congress continues to meet, and that's why we will move forward with the lawsuit."