House blocks bill to renew FISA spy program after conservative revolt


Washington — A bill that would reauthorize a crucial national security surveillance program was blocked Wednesday by a conservative revolt in the House, pushing the prospects of final passage into uncertainty amid a looming deadline. The legislative impasse also follows an edict earlier in the day from former President Donald Trump to “kill” the measure.

The legislative breakdown comes months after a similar process to reform and reauthorize the surveillance program fell apart before it even reached the House floor. Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican of Louisiana, has called the program “critically important” but has struggled to find a path forward on the issue, which has been plagued by partisan bickering for years. The procedural vote to bring up the bill failed 193-228. Nineteen Republicans voted no.

The bill under consideration would renew the surveillance program with a series of reforms meant to satisfy critics who complained of civil liberties violations against Americans. But Republican critics complained that those changes did not go far enough, calling into doubt whether the bill backed by the Biden administration and Johnson would have enough votes to advance.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson listens during a press conference following a House GOP caucus meeting at the Capitol on April 10, 2024.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson listens during a press conference following a House GOP caucus meeting at the Capitol on April 10, 2024.

Samuel Corum / Getty Images


At issue is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits the U.S. government to collect without a warrant the communications of non-Americans located outside the country to gather foreign intelligence. It is set to expire on April 19 if Congress does not act.

U.S. officials have said the tool, first authorized in 2008 and renewed several times since then, is crucial in disrupting terror attacks, cyber intrusions and foreign espionage and has also produced intelligence that the U.S. has relied on for specific operations.

But the administration’s efforts to secure reauthorization of the program have encountered fierce, and bipartisan, pushback. Democrats who have long championed civil liberties, like Sen. Ron Wyden, have aligned with Republican supporters of Trump, who in a post on Truth Social on Wednesday stated incorrectly that Section 702 had been used to spy on his presidential campaign.

“Kill FISA,” he wrote in all capital letters. “It was illegally used against me, and many others. They spied on my campaign.” A former adviser to his 2016 presidential campaign was targeted over potential ties to Russia under a different section of the surveillance law.

A specific area of concern for lawmakers has centered on the FBI’s use of the vast intelligence repository to look up information about Americans and others in the U.S. Though the surveillance program only targets non-Americans in other countries, it also collects communications of Americans when they are in contact with those targeted foreigners.

In the past year, U.S. officials have revealed a series of abuses and mistakes by FBI analysts in improperly querying the intelligence repository for information about Americans or others in the U.S, including about a member of Congress and participants in the racial justice protests of 2020 and the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Those violations have led to demands for the FBI to have a warrant before conducting database queries on Americans, which FBI Director Chris Wray has warned would effectively gut the effectiveness of the program and was also legally unnecessary since the database contained already lawfully collected information.

“While it is imperative that we ensure this critical authority of 702 does not lapse, we also must not undercut the effectiveness of this essential tool with a warrant requirement or some similar restriction, paralyzing our ability to tackle fast-moving threats,” Wray said in a speech Tuesday.

Johnson made a fresh push for passage on Wednesday, saying, “It’s critical we address these abuses because we don’t want to be able to lose section 702 of FISA. It’s a critically important piece of our intelligence and law enforcement in this country.”

Though the program would technically expire on April 19, the Biden administration said it expects its authority to collect intelligence to remain operational for another year, thanks to an earlier opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance applications.



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