House Democrats Abandon Vote On FISA Reauthorization

President Donald Trump's veto threat, along with progressive complaints, helped derail a vote on major domestic surveillance programs.

House Democrats abandoned plans to vote Thursday on a bill reauthorizing lapsed provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act after complaints from Republicans and progressives, leaving the renewal and overhaul of major domestic surveillance programs in doubt.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) blamed President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans for whipping against a bill that passed earlier this year with broad GOP support. 

“The two-thirds of the Republican party that voted for this bill in March have indicated they are going to vote against it now. I am told they are doing so at the request of the President,” Hoyer said in a statement. 

House progressives, who opposed the bill in March, also refused to get on board. Privacy advocates sent a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday urging them to oppose an amendment they said offered fewer protections for Americans’ Internet browsing data. The amendment was offered as a compromise to the bill, but it collapsed after the Democratic sponsor of a similar measure in the Senate, Ron Wyden of Oregon, pulled his support.

The developments left many progressive advocates frustrated that the Democratic-controlled House changed a provision that received such widespread support in the Senate ― one that would have barred the federal government from spying on Americans’ internet browsing and search histories without a warrant.

The ability of Congress to renew controversial FISA surveillance programs, some of which expired last year, always hinged on a bipartisan coalition of members that could overcome opposition from liberals and libertarian-leaning conservatives. Once Republicans pulled their support, House Democrats couldn’t make up the difference within their own numbers. 

Trump and his allies had their own complaints about FISA. The president alleged that surveillance programs were abused by the Obama administration to spy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a member of his 2016 presidential campaign. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday she intended to go to conference with the Senate to come up with a bicameral agreement on reauthorizing the law.

The upper chamber passed its own version last week that included some modest reforms to the surveillance programs, but senators fell one vote shy of preventing the federal government from spying on Americans’ internet browsing and search histories without a warrant.