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Speaker Johnson urges competing factions to back House’s FISA bill

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is pitching colleagues on the chamber’s latest proposal to extend the nation’s warrantless surveillance powers, warning of urgent deadlines and a risk of Senate intervention.

The Reforming Intelligence and Surveillance Act unveiled Friday would extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to spy on noncitizens located abroad.

Johnson sold the legislation as a reform bill that would “strictly prohibit future abuses” of the tool, trying to win over lawmakers who have repeatedly blocked its path forward. 

The bill closely aligns with a February proposal that nearly made it to the House floor, offering significant limitations on how agencies like the FBI can review information on Americans that are swept up while surveilling those abroad.

But it does not include a warrant requirement that privacy hawks have demanded but that opponents – led by those on the House Intelligence Committee – warn would cause delays that would impede intelligence agents from responding to threats in real time.

Fights between the two factions have repeatedly stalled the bill, with the House in December forced to pass a short term extension of the authority. And plans to bring legislation to the floor in February were thwarted when House Intelligence members protested an effort to add an unrelated matter to the legislation. 

While Johnson praised Judiciary and Intel leaders for “com[ing] together to produce an extraordinary bill” he made clear the risks if the feuding sides did not come together to support the legislation.

“It is critically important that we succeed in passing these reforms next week because the April 19th expiration of FISA’s Section 702 authority is quickly approaching. If our bill fails, we will be faced with an impossible choice and can expect the Senate to jam us with a clean extension that includes no reforms at all,” Johnson wrote.

“That is clearly an unacceptable option.”

The upper chamber had several competing FISA 702 bills as well, including those that would require a court order before reviewing information collected on Americans.

Johnson also pointed to provisions in the House bill that would address another section of FISA law dealing with domestic surveillance, noting the legislation includes reforms that would have prevented surveillance of Trump campaign aide Carter Page, something he called a “baseless attack against his campaign.”  

The House Rules Committee is set to review the bill on Tuesday afternoon, and all lawmakers are invited to a Wednesday classified briefing with intelligence community officials.

Under the legislation, FBI supervisors or attorneys will now have to approve any agent query that might involve U.S. citizens – a figure that has dropped substantially since a shift in the FBI search portal that opted agents into searching the 702 database.

It also requires an after-the-fact review of all 702 queries of U.S. people.

Administration officials speaking with reporters Friday made clear the urgency underlying Congress’s consideration of the bill, arguing the lawmakers were out of runway for punting the legislation and rejected the idea of another short term extension.

 “Whether the intelligence community and law enforcement can rely on an absolutely essential authority should not be up for grabs, should not be called into question every three months.  That’s an irresponsible way for Congress to legislate, an irresponsibility for Congress to do its part in trying to help us, the executive branch, protect the American people,” a senior administration official told reporters.

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