House GOP plan for separate bill on surveillance law 'dead for now'

House GOP plan for separate bill on surveillance law 'dead for now'
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House Republicans’ plans to vote on a stand-alone bill to renew a controversial surveillance authority are dead “for now,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesNunes used political donations for K in NBA tickets, winery tours, Vegas trips: report Russia raises problems for GOP candidates GOP lawmaker regrets appearing on Alex Jones's radio show MORE (R-Calif.) told reporters less than 24 hours after lawmakers scheduled a Rules Committee vote on the measure.

GOP lawmakers will attempt to hash out stark divisions in a conference meeting later on Wednesday, but after a closed-door meeting with key lawmakers in Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse leaders clash over resolution backing ICE House backs resolution expressing support for ICE House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE MORE’s (R-Calif.) office, no decisions had yet been made.

“We’re still working away on it,” McCarthy said, but offered few other details.

Among the slate of options and unanswered questions: Will lawmakers try to attach a short-term renewal of the program to a stopgap spending measure at the end of the week, or try to push through a more long-term solution?

They are butting up against a tight deadline: The current law, which the intelligence community says is critical to identify and disrupting terror plots, is set to expire at the end of the year.

“There’s a very little chance that a long-term FISA reauthorization has support of the overall conference,” said House Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFreedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus MORE (R-N.C.), whose caucus is calling for stronger privacy protections to fix what it sees as systemic Fourth Amendment violations under the current program.

“It’ll all be talked about in the conference later today. I think we’re going to make a decision.”

Both the House and the Senate have struggled to reach a consensus on renewing the authority, known as Section 702, before it expires — and the program has now become a bargaining chip for the Freedom Caucus in negotiations over the continuing resolution (CR) that the House must pass to keep the government funded past Friday. 

“If we’re really looking at reforms and protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens, then we might be willing to go along and support this attachment even though, fiscally, it pains us,” Meadows said Tuesday, referring to a proposal to direct $81 billion in supplemental disaster relief funding to areas hit by natural disasters that is part of the CR.

The House was poised to vote on a modified measure from the House Intelligence Committee as a stand-alone — but within hours of the bill posting on Tuesday afternoon it became clear that it was likely dead on arrival.

The Rules Committee vote, scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, has since been postponed.

The House Freedom Caucus fiercely opposed the measure on privacy grounds, and the House Judiciary Committee had already advanced its own bipartisan bill out of committee — a bill that applied more significant privacy protections than the Intel bill but still fell short of earning Freedom Caucus support.

In the upper chamber, Majority Whip Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Texas) has suggested lawmakers will try to insert a short-term renewal into its continuing resolution, effectively punting the issue at least into the new year.

But it’s unclear what leaders mean by “short-term.” Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump McCain: Trump plays into 'Putin's hands' by attacking Montenegro, questioning NATO obligations MORE (R-Ky.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse passes measure blocking IRS from revoking churches' tax-exempt status over political activity Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS Senate panel advances Trump IRS nominee MORE (D-Ore.) on Wednesday threatened to mount a filibuster of any long-term extension of the law.

The House is now weighing a similar path — there is little appetite amongst lawmakers to allow the program to expire — but it’s unclear what the contours of such an extension might be. Meadows told reporters Tuesday that he had previously suggested a two- or three-month extension but, “I don’t know if that’s picked up steam.”

“Above my paygrade,” Nunes said Wednesday when asked whether lawmakers were considering punting the sunset into early 2018 or potentially for a year or more.