WASHINGTON – Democrats on Thursday pulled legislation from the House floor to extend FBI surveillance authorities after President Donald Trump and Republicans turned against the measure and ensured its defeat. The House later voted 284-122 to officially start those negotiations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there instead would be a new round of negotiations with the Senate over the expired powers the FBI considers vital in fighting terrorism. The House later voted 284-122 to officially start those negotiations.
The impasse raised the potential for the surveillance powers to remain expired indefinitely. The provisions, which lapsed in March, allow the FBI to get a court order for business records in national security investigations and conduct surveillance on subjects without establishing they’re acting on behalf of an international terrorism organization. They also make it easier for investigators to continue eavesdropping on a subject who has switched cellphone providers to thwart detection.
A bill renewing those authorities passed the Senate with 80 votes earlier this month, and it appeared on track for easy passage. The House had overwhelmingly supported a similar measure in March with the support of 126 Republicans. That bill was a compromise worked out between the two parties and Attorney General William Barr.
But the compromise crumbled this week as Trump threatened a veto and House Republicans who had once voted for the bill quickly followed his lead.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who praised the bill in March and said it included “important reforms" to guard against abuses, reversed that stance when Trump said he opposed it. On Thursday, McCarthy said Congress should “take a pause."
Pelosi criticized Republicans for the about-face, noting that some were praising the legislation as recently as Wednesday morning. She said that as soon as the president made his views known, “the commitment to national security disappeared.”
Without a veto-proof majority, Pelosi said, the House would not attempt to pass the measure and instead start direct negotiations. Democrats had scheduled a vote on the legislation Wednesday but adjourned without holding it as it became clear the votes were not there. Dozens of House Democrats were opposed to the bill.