Pelosi pulls vote on FISA bill after Trump veto threat
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yanked a vote scheduled for Wednesday night on a bill reauthorizing lapsed surveillance programs after opposition from Republicans and progressives made it unclear if it could pass.
“Members are advised that votes are no longer expected in the House tonight,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office announced shortly after 9:30 p.m.
A Democratic aide confirmed that there would be “no further votes” in the House on Wednesday.
The decision to pull the vote comes after House Democratic leadership vowed on Wednesday to give the legislation a vote and worked furiously behind the scenes to try to shore up support for the bill.
But the fate of the bill remained in doubt going into Wednesday evening. House Democratic leadership delayed starting debate over the bill, instead bringing up unrelated, noncontroversial bills. The chamber then went into three 15-minute breaks as discussions continued off the floor.
It wasn’t immediately clear when, or if, Pelosi would bring the bill up for a vote. The House will be in session on Thursday and the legislation is listed for “possible consideration.” She had floated earlier Wednesday that if the Senate-amended bill could not pass the House, she would try to send back an initial version that passed the House in March, but did not make an announcement on Wednesday night regarding her plans.
The pivot Wednesday caps off an uncertain 24 hours for the legislation after President Trump on Tuesday night urged Republicans to oppose the measure. The bill reauthorizes three surveillance programs under the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 intelligence reform law, and makes some changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
Headaches for Pelosi continued to pile up on Wednesday as House GOP leadership announced it would oppose the bill and urge Republicans to vote against it, even though more than 120 supported the initial bill in March.
“We just formally announced a whip against it because, number one, it’s not going to become law. Number two, there are still so many questions that need to be answered about real abuses that happened in the FISA system,” Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said at a press conference.
Trump called House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Wednesday morning and requested that he whip against the measure.
“We mounted an aggressive whip effort all day. Democrats were banking on picking off some of our members to get them over the top and tried to work that, but we held our members together, and because of that, Democrats couldn’t get there and had to pull the bill,” the source said. “Trump and Scalise spoke again tonight after the bill was pulled.”
House Democratic leaders had said they would hold a vote on the bill Wednesday, and as of 8 p.m., Hoyer was still sending out notices saying a vote on the bill was expected that evening. Hoyer also made calls to moderate Republicans in an effort to gather enough support to push the bill through Wednesday night, one GOP lawmaker told The Hill.
But opposition continued to solidify on Wednesday, with Trump vowing to veto the bill if it passed the House.
“If the FISA Bill is passed tonight on the House floor, I will quickly VETO it. Our Country has just suffered through the greatest political crime in its history. The massive abuse of FISA was a big part of it!” Trump tweeted.
If the FISA Bill is passed tonight on the House floor, I will quickly VETO it. Our Country has just suffered through the greatest political crime in its history. The massive abuse of FISA was a big part of it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
And progressives, who have long had concerns about the FISA court, vowed to oppose it after House leadership decided not to consider an amendment from Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) aimed at restricting law enforcement from obtaining web browsing history without a FISA warrant.
The House version of the amendment was significantly narrower than a Senate version from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) — offering the protection only to U.S. persons — and ultimately lost the support of Wyden and some key progressive groups after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) suggested it left leeway for Americans’ data to be collected during foreign intelligence investigations.
Despite the pushback on the Lofgren-Davidson amendment, removing it entirely from the debate cost the underlying bill support.
Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, came out in opposition of the USA Freedom reauthorization after the amendment was dropped.
“We have grave concerns that this legislation does not protect people in the United States from warrantless surveillance, especially their online activity including web browsing and internet searches,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “Despite some positive reforms, the legislation is far too narrow in scope and would still leave the public vulnerable to invasive online spying and data collection.”
Davidson also announced his intention to vote against the reauthorization package after his amendment was not included.
“While the Senate FISA reauthorization offers modest reforms, I am disappointed that Representatives refused to consider basic protections for Americans’ constitutionally protected right to privacy — protections that enjoy bipartisan support in both House and Senate,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement.
“I cannot in good conscience support reauthorizing FISA without making more serious changes to protect Americans’ from warrantless surveillance, and therefore, I oppose the underlying bill,” he added.
Olivia Beavers and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.
Updated: 11:07 p.m.
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