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House Renews Section 702 FISA Authorization – But There’s a Catch

FISA politics makes for strange bedfellows.

by | Apr 13, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

The US House of Representatives renewed authorization for Section 702 of FISA yesterday, April 12. But there’s a catch – well, a couple, actually. After two days of legislative lockdown thanks to a rebellion in the House GOP, an agreement was reached to push the bill through. Former President Donald Trump had called for Congress to kill FISA and put an end to spying on American citizens, but he ultimately did not get his wish – nor did the 19 GOP lawmakers who answered the call to shut down the process.

For a time, those 19 Republican votes were enough to halt the process thanks to the support of the Democrats – who, as Liberty Nation’s Mark Angelides put it, opposed the procedural vote “not because they do not support the reauthorization, but because it has become standard practice to vote against the majority when procedural issues are on the table.” The catch, however, is that this renewal is only for two years rather than the normal five, meaning that if Donald Trump wins himself a return trip to the White House in November, he’ll get a crack at taking down the surveillance state in the first half of his term. Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) actions may have landed him in hot water with his own party once again.

The Foul Taste of FISA and the Trump Factor

This controversial part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which has to be periodically reauthorized by Congress, grants the government the power to spy on foreigners abroad. The problem, however, is that it has often been used to also spy on American citizens both at home and abroad. As it stands, Section 702 allows intelligence agencies to get warrants to surveil suspected bad actors from other countries (spies, terrorists, etc.). Should American citizens be in contact with the target of a FISA surveillance warrant, however, they too can – and often do – get swept up in the net.

Though there are many more examples, the most famous recently would be Operation Crossfire Hurricane – the source of the former president’s ire on this topic and the inspiration for his TruthSocial post demanding: “KILL FISA, IT WAS USED ILLEGALLY AGAINST ME, AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!!”

As LN has reported before, some in the House – especially Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have made it their mission to “kill FISA,” as Trump put it. Barring that, an amendment was proposed to require additional warrants be granted before any data from any American citizen can be included in a FISA sweep.

Generally speaking, however, the sense of security folks feel knowing the government is empowered to spy on foreign troublemakers has outweighed the foul taste left behind by the allegedly unintended side effect of spying on Americans as well. Lawmakers from both sides spoke out against “blinding” the US Intelligence Community, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) even went so far as to say, “… we could have been saved from 9/11 if we didn’t have to have the additional warrants.”

Johnson’s deal to break the logjam, though, did at least shorten the time between renewals, meaning that if Trump wins in November, this issue will come back up for review during his presidency. It isn’t what he or his friends in the House wanted – but it is a potential opportunity the Donald seems unlikely to waste should he secure a second term.

A Truly Bipartisan Event – Divisive as It Was

The April 12 session, which saw the blockage cleared and the bill passed in the House, was an interesting manifestation of the old saying that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” There was no shortage of drama or division – but, at the same time, there was also a nigh miraculous bipartisanship displayed, both for and against the renewal as well as the failed amendment to add additional warrant requirements.

After a couple of party-line votes on unrelated resolutions, the House began voting on amendments to the FISA renewal and then, eventually, on the passage itself. First up was the Biggs Amendment. This is the one that would have added the warrant requirements. It failed 212-212, with 128 Republicans and 84 Democrats voting for it and 86 Republicans and 126 Democrats voting against. Seven Republicans and six Democrats abstained from voting. Four more amendments followed, with almost equally bipartisan support and objection and a similar number not voting.

On the final passage, the spread was 126 Republicans in support with 88 opposed and four not voting to 147 Democrats for it with 59 against and seven not voting for a final count of 273-147 and 11 not voting. It just goes to show that the privacy vs security conundrum is one that can transcend the usual partisan politics.

In all the sound and fury of the day, one might be forgiven for missing the other story lurking in the shadow of the House passage: Speaker Mike Johnson’s ongoing battle to keep hold of the gavel. Don’t forget Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) mission to vacate the speakership – a call she renewed just a few days ago.

Friday’s vote likely didn’t win Johnson any friends among either those who voted for the Biggs amendment or against renewal entirely. He made the deals that got the legislation passed, and at first glance some might call that a victory. But it certainly wouldn’t have felt like one to the 19 GOP representatives who initially blocked its passage in the name of protecting privacy. The outcome also certainly won’t have felt like a win for the 212 House members – from both parties – who voted in favor of requiring the government acquire to additional warrants before spying on the very people FISA was designed to protect: American citizens.

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