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 NunesEthics complaint filed against Nunes asks how he's paying for lawsuits The Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? Trump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick 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 McCarthyCongress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Warren introduces bill to redirect wall money to coronavirus 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.

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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 MeadowsSanders, socialism emerge as top targets at CPAC Trump upends controversial surveillance fight House Freedom Caucus chairman endorses Collins's Georgia Senate bid 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. 

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“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 CornynGOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats Congress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 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 PaulHillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment Trump upends controversial surveillance fight Former impeachment managers clash over surveillance bill MORE (R-Ky.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — FCC fines mobile carriers 0M for selling user data | Twitter verified fake 2020 candidate | Dems press DHS to complete election security report | Reddit chief calls TikTok spyware FCC proposes over 0 million in fines against top mobile carriers FCC to hit mobile carriers with fines over location sharing: report 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.