- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The House voted Wednesday on reauthorizing expired government surveillance tools, ignoring pleas from Republicans to hold off and a threat from President Trump to veto the bill.

Consideration of the bill was overshadowed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of a new proxy-vote system due to coronavirus. It’s the first time in the chamber’s history that members cast votes remotely, which Republicans said was unconstitutional and would disqualify the tally.

Still, Democrats sought to put a stamp of approval, albeit tainted, on the renewal of three provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that gives the government broad powers to spy on individuals, both foreign and domestic, suspected of terrorism or other crimes.

What had been anticipated to be a relatively easy vote on final passage was thrown into chaos after Mr. Trump weighed in late Tuesday and urged Republicans to vote against the bill. The president is still fuming over the FBI’s use of the FISA process to spy on members of his 2016 campaign and advance discredited accusations of Trump-Russia collusion to rig the election.

He backed more dramatic reforms than what made it into the bill.

Mr. Trump raised the volume Wednesday, making an explicit veto threat as House members prepared to cast votes.

“If the FISA Bill is passed tonight on the House floor, I will quickly VETO it,” he tweeted. “Our Country has just suffered through the greatest political crime in its history. The massive abuse of FISA was a big part of it!”

Earlier, House Republicans leaders called on Democratic leadership to pull the bill from the floor.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, called for more debate saying there was no point in passing legislation that will be vetoed by the president.

“In moving forward today, it won’t be signed into law. The president has questions, the attorney general has questions,” he said. “Since the time we had passed the bill in the House, there has been more information coming forward with the FISA Court being used in processes it shouldn’t have been.”

Mr. McCarthy said no vote on the legislation should take place until investigations into alleged FISA abuses by the FBI aimed at the Trump campaign are completed.

“I’m interested in making sure the FISA court has reform and is able to sustain itself, that it’s looking at foreigners and not Americans,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, accused his colleagues of playing politics, noting the broad, bipartisan support for the legislation the first time around.

“It wasn’t a majority-minority bill, it was an American bill,” he said. “The only thing that has changed, Madame Speaker, is that Donald Trump said to vote ‘no.’”

The FISA update passed the House earlier this year with 152 Democrats and 126 Republicans voting “yes” in a rare show of bipartisan support.

The Senate then modified the House bill by adding stronger privacy protections. Those changes sent the bill back to the House for final approval.

Attorney General William Barr also called for a veto of the bill Wednesday, though in the opposite direction from the president, saying the Senate changes go too far and weaken national security.

It was a surprising turn of events because Mr. Barr helped negotiate the original House bill.

“Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department’s ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House. If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd said in a statement.

As pressure mounted, Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, remained steadfast the bill would proceed.

“We’ll act upon it one way or another,” she said.

Wednesday’s vote capped months of negotiating between House leadership including Mrs. Pelosi, and privacy hawks on the right and left.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, pushed to include an amendment in the reauthorization that would ban the government from spying on Americans’ internet history without a warrant.

The proposal was scuttled out of fear it would sink the entire package.

Mrs. Pelosi said the bill advanced without the amendment because that was “where the votes were.”

The amendment was introduced with Rep. Warren Davidson, Ohio Republican. The amendment closely mimicked a similar proposal that failed in the Senate by a single vote.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the sponsor of the amendment in the Senate, lashed out at House Judiciary Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, who worked to block the amendment.

“It is now clear that there is no agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to enact true protections for Americans’ rights against dragnet collection of online activity, which is why I must oppose this amendment, along with the underlying bill, and urge the House to vote on the original Wyden-Daines amendment,” Mr. Wyden said.

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