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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La.
House Speaker Mike Johnson told lawmakers to expect a vote this week on FISA reauthorization. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The FISA Bill Fails After Trump Calls to ‘Kill’ the Program

“I think anybody that has a keyboard can influence members of Congress at this point,” one Republican lawmaker said as negotiations to reform the intelligence program fell apart.

Momentum to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act completely stalled out Wednesday, with a procedural vote on a reform bill resoundingly failing on the House floor. The breakdown in negotiations happened in the wake of Donald Trump calling on Congress to kill the intelligence program altogether.

House Speaker Mike Johnson told lawmakers to expect a vote on the bill this week, but by mid-morning Wednesday, several Republican lawmakers said they did not want to move forward with the legislation on the House floor. Nineteen Republicans voted against a rule on the FISA reauthorization bill.

“We will regroup and reformulate another plan. We cannot allow Section 702 of FISA to expire,” Johnson told reporters after the rule failed.

For months, Congress has been in a stalemate over how to reform FISA before its April 19 expiration, with the major sticking point being over whether to require intelligence agencies to get a warrant before querying for information about Americans. Johnson planned to bring forward a vote on a bill that made some changes to FISA but did not include a warrant requirement.

“These 56 reforms were reached by a real consensus process over many months and many, many weeks of a special task force working together countless hours,” Johnson said Wednesday morning, avoiding questions about the warrant debate.

But many Republicans in his conference were not convinced.

“What’s set up here, the explanation that we’ve been given, is all of the things laid out in penalties if the FBI were to warrantless spy on the American people,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said of the new bill. “Except, it’s like asking the deep state to hold itself accountable.”

“I have always said, I don’t bend the Constitution,” Rep. Ryan Zinke told reporters. “You need probable cause and a warrant, and I think that supports the Constitution.”

Trump didn’t help Johnson’s cause either. The former president posted “KILL FISA” on Truth Social late Tuesday night, alleging the program was “illegally used against” him. (During the 2016 campaign, FBI officials sought a secret surveillance warrant against a onetime campaign adviser. What’s up for a debate in Congress is a completely separate provision of the law.)

“I think anybody that has a keyboard can influence members of Congress at this point,” Rep. Garret Graves told reporters Wednesday morning. “President Trump certainly has access to a keyboard and is influential, but I think with these tight majorities, it’s not just President Trump.”

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Republicans’ extremely slim majority in the House means even just a few lawmakers can put the entirety of a bill in jeopardy — especially if Democrats all vote against something. “I think that’s what a lot of people are realizing — we don’t truly have a majority at this point,” Graves said about negotiations over the bill.

But on Wednesday, more than a dozen Republicans voted against the procedural measure on the FISA bill.

Graves also acknowledged that there’s an apparent knowledge gap among his colleagues when discussing the issue.

“Hearing a lot of conflicting information in that room, I think kind of confused many members of Congress,” he said of Wednesday morning’s House Republican conference meeting.

House Republican leadership is well aware of the issue. “There is that gap,” Rep. Blake Moore of Utah confirmed to NOTUS. “Understanding what the database is, what a query is versus a search, then you got people talking secondary warrants and stuff. I mean, it is not a simple issue.”

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.