Johnson considers new vote on spy powers for next week

Johnson considers new vote on spy powers for next week

Speaker Mike Johnson is eyeing a floor vote on a revised spy powers bill next week, four people familiar with the discussion told POLITICO.

The move would almost certainly renew lingering tensions within the House GOP over what to do about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Act (FISA), after deep divisions forced Republicans to punt the issue late last year. Johnson’s handling of how to reauthorize surveillance powers also led to widespread criticism of his leadership.

The new plan isn’t final, the people cautioned, noting that the bill is still being negotiated and could fall apart because of GOP divisions.

The bill under discussion would largely align with legislation rolled out last year by the House Intelligence Committee, according to three people, who noted that there would be some changes. Negotiators want to roll out legislation as soon as Thursday, one of those people said, and move it through the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

Judiciary Committee members and other privacy hawks would then be allowed to offer amendments that would require a warrant before searching for Americans’ information collected under the program. Section 702 authority is meant to target non-citizens abroad but has sparked controversy because of its ability to sweep in American information.

Republicans on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees revived a working group last month after leadership requested that they try to work out the differences between two bills to renew the surveillance authorities. Leadership also added its own members to the group. The existence of the working group, and its revival, was first reported by POLITICO.

Congress technically has until mid-April to decide what to do about Section 702. But privacy hawks say Johnson would prefer to move sooner rather than later. And those lawmakers are worried that if they don’t move quickly, intelligence community allies could try to attach a relatively straightforward reauthorization to next month’s government funding deadline, that wouldn’t include the sweeping new limits they are pushing for.

Intelligence and Judiciary Committee Republicans spent months talking behind the scenes last year, but ultimately each panel drafted its own bill on 702 reauthorization.

Beyond differences over warrant requirement for U.S. person searches — the Judiciary bill required one, the Intelligence legislation did not — the two bills differed widely in scope. The Judiciary bill proposed a sweeping spy powers overhaul that would go well beyond just Section 702. Critics argued last year that the Judiciary bill would effectively neuter the 702 program, rendering it unworkable.

Those divisions, particularly over the warrant requirement, haven’t been resolved.

“I think we’re really going to have to do something sooner rather than later,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the working group, said in a brief interview. He added that lawmakers are “still working.”

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