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House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate

House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate
© Greg Nash

The House voted Thursday to request a conference with the Senate over a bill to reauthorize three intelligence programs after it failed twice this week to vote on the legislation. 

The 282-122 vote allows negotiations between the House and Senate to begin as Congress tries to reach a deal on legislation to reauthorize three lapsed surveillance programs and make some changes to the court associated with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). 

Reps. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Democrats demand Saudi accountability over Khashoggi killing US intel: Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing MORE (D-Calif.) and Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesNunes lawsuit against CNN thrown out Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variants spread in US; Redditors shake Wall Street with Gamestop stock GOP group launches billboard campaign urging Cruz, Hawley to resign MORE (R-Calif.), the top members of the House Intelligence Committee; Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Judiciary split on how to address domestic extremism George Floyd police reform bill reintroduced in House Nadler presses DOJ to prosecute all involved in Capitol riot MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Trump to reemerge on political scene at CPAC Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House MORE (R-Ohio), the top members of the Judiciary Committee; and Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenCurator estimates Capitol art damage from mob totals K Architect of the Capitol considering display on Jan. 6 riot Lawmakers say they are 'targets,' ask to boost security MORE (D-Calif.), who has been at the center of the months-long debate, will lead the negotiations for the House.

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The Senate will also have to vote to formally launch a conference committee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now MORE (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Trump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars McCarthy: No commitment from Trump to not target Republicans MORE (R-Calif.) talked on Thursday morning about the plan to go to conference to work out the differences. 

“The Leaders spoke this morning. Going to a conference committee is regular order when the two chambers disagree,” a spokesman for McConnell told The Hill. 

Establishing a conference committee would allow leadership and key members space to try to hash out an agreement on how to handle the intelligence programs in the face of insurmountable opposition from Republicans and progressives that scuttled House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' Capitol review to recommend adding more fencing, 1,000 officers: report MORE’s (D-Calif.) plan to try to send a Senate-passed bill to President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE’s desk. 

“It will be our intention to go to conference in order to ensure that all of the views of all Members of our Caucus are represented in the final product,” Pelosi wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Thursday, laying out her backup plan.

Democratic leadership has largely pinned the failure to secure passage of the reauthorization bill on Trump, who on Tuesday urged Republican lawmakers to vote against it because of alleged abuse of FISA by the Obama administration to spy on his 2016 campaign.

He then doubled down on the criticism Wednesday, pledging to veto the bill if it was passed.

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The House initially passed the bill in March, shortly before the intelligence programs expired. But the Senate amended it earlier this month by adding language from Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPress: The big loser: The Republican Party Senate acquits Trump in 57-43 vote Trump lawyer irked after senators laugh at him MORE (D-Vt.) that would let outside counsel review some FISA surveillance requests.

House Democratic leaders then sought to vote on the Senate bill.

House Republican leaders, who had backed the bill in March before the Lee-Leahy language was added, on Wednesday opposed it as Trump urged them on.

But McCarthy on Thursday did expressed support for sending the initial reauthorization legislation that passed the House in March to conference.

“We spent all day yesterday late into the night until [Democrats] finally came to a conclusion that they could not pass it,” he said during a press conference. 

“So, what would you do now in this predicament? I would send it to conference, that's what regular order is — you have a Senate bill that the House could not pass, you have a House bill go to conference and work on trying to solve the differences. That's the appropriate way to go,” he added. 

Despite the pushback from Republicans, Democrats may have been able to pass the bill alone if not for opposition from progressives. But they faced an uphill battle to do so. The initial bill passed in March garnered only 152 Democratic votes, meaning Pelosi would have had to flip dozens of her members. 

An amendment that was initially meant to mirror one offered by Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package On The Money: Democrats scramble to save minimum wage hike | Personal incomes rise, inflation stays low after stimulus burst MORE (D-Ore.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE (R-Mont.) in the Senate became a late controversy.

It would have required a warrant before law enforcement could access web browsing history. 

But the language from Lofgren and Rep. Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Top GOP lawmakers call for Swalwell to be removed from Intelligence Committee House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE (R-Ohio) only offered the protection to U.S. persons and ultimately lost the support of Wyden after Schiff suggested it left leeway for Americans’ data to be collected during foreign intelligence investigations.

Pelosi said during a press conference Wednesday that leadership dropped the amendment because the Senate version would get the most votes.

Despite concerns with the amendment from progressives, stripping it entirely cost their support for the underlying bill.

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Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike MORE (D-Wash.) and Mark PocanMark William PocanSenate Democrats likely to face key test of unity on 2022 budget Democrats blast Facebook over anti-vaccine pages Watch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget MORE (D-Wis.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, came out in opposition of the reauthorization shortly after the amendment was dropped.

FreedomWorks, a libertarian advocacy group that backed the Wyden-Daines amendment, scored against the vote to go to conference. 

“If we can't get the reforms needed to protect civil liberties, the surveillance authorities should remain expired,” Jason Pye, the group’s vice president of legislative affairs, tweeted about the decision.  

Schiff, the lead prosecutor for House Democrats during President Trump's impeachment trial, has been a target of progressive Democrats throughout the FISA debate. They accused him of derailing the Lofgren-Davidson amendment. 

"He has done nothing but prevent Congress from voting on this and he is clearly wielding the intelligence committee to shield the FBI not only from oversight but from basic Congressional process," Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel at internet rights group Demand Progress, told The Hill.