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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 SchiffCIA impeachment whistleblower forced to live under surveillance due to threats: report In our 'Bizarro World' of 2020 politics, the left takes a wrong turn Greenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox MORE (D-Calif.) and Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesTrump pushing to declassify document disputing intel findings on Russia: report Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 Democrat Arballo gains on Nunes: internal poll MORE (R-Calif.), the top members of the House Intelligence Committee; Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMarijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHouse Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day McCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments MORE (R-Ohio), the top members of the Judiciary Committee; and Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenWhy prevailing wage reform matters for H-1B visas Fears grow of voter suppression in Texas Business groups start gaming out a Biden administration 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 McConnellTop Senate GOP super PAC makes final .6M investment in Michigan Senate race On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election Overnight Health Care: House Dem report blasts Trump coronavirus response | Regeneron halts trial of antibody drug in sickest hospitalized patients | McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 MORE (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe truth, the whole truth about protecting preexisting conditions McCarthy urges networks not to call presidential race until 'every polling center has closed' House Republicans slated to hold leadership election on Nov. 17 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 PelosiOn The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election Overnight Health Care: House Dem report blasts Trump coronavirus response | Regeneron halts trial of antibody drug in sickest hospitalized patients | McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 MORE’s (D-Calif.) plan to try to send a Senate-passed bill to President TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll 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 LeeGeorgia Republican Drew Ferguson tests positive for COVID-19 Trump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' White House to host swearing-in event for Barrett on Monday night MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority 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 WydenWhat were we thinking in 1996 when we approved Section 230? On The Money: Dow falls more than 900 points amid fears of new COVID-19 restrictions | Democrats press Trump Org. about president's Chinese bank account | Boeing plans thousands of additional job cuts Democrats press Trump Organization about president's Chinese bank account MORE (D-Ore.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesGOP sees path to hold Senate majority Democrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll Poll shows statistical tie in Montana Senate race 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 DavidsonHillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns 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 introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (D-Wash.) and Mark PocanMark William PocanCutting defense spending by 10 percent would debilitate America's military Progressive lawmakers call for United Nations probe into DHS 'human rights abuses' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Barrett touts independence to sidestep confirmation questions 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.