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House Democrats forged ahead with a vote Wednesday to reauthorize surveillance tools used by law enforcement despite sudden GOP opposition to the plan as President Trump threatened to veto the bill if passed.
“If the FISA Bill is passed tonight on the House floor, I will quickly VETO it,” Trump tweeted ahead of the vote. “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 Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership marched forward with the scheduled vote to authorize Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) provisions and said it will be up to Trump to decide whether he wants to undo the carefully drafted bipartisan effort.
“I don’t know what the president will do. This is not the first time he’s tweeted against a bill and then the next day comes out and says he would support it,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., of the Trump’s Tuesday tweet urging Republicans to oppose the FISA plan. “It will be in his hands.”
“Late night tweets are not a way to govern,” McGovern added.
The House in March passed with broad bipartisan support a reauthorization of the surveillance measures plus new privacy protections to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by a 278-136 vote. The Senate then passed its version of reforms with another strong bipartisan vote of 80-16 to reauthorize expiring provisions and revise how the Justice Department and FBI use the tools designed to fight terrorism.
The House Wednesday was slated to pass the Senate version and to send the FISA bill to Trump’s desk.
But Trump put a wrench in the plan when he tweeted Tuesday night that he’s urging all Republicans to vote no on the FISA legislation “until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!”
Trump issued the warning on Twitter, referring to his longstanding belief that the intelligence community improperly used FISA authorities to surveil his presidential campaign for political reasons and launch the Russia probe.
Then the Department of Justice came out Wednesday morning urging Trump to veto the legislation saying it goes too far and would weaken national security tools.
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., urged House Democrats to pull the bill and Rep. Steve Scalise advised his members to vote “no.” Republicans argued the House should wait until they can draft legislation that has the support of the Trump Administration.
“My support for the underlying legislation does not wane because of a presidential tweet,” said Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga. “My belief that the legislation will be signed into law wanes because of a presidential tweet.”
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer bashed Republicans who voted in favor of the FISA bill just a few weeks and then reversed course just now because of Trump’s tweet.
“Your flailing around to find a rationalization for your change of vote is sad,” Hoyer said.
If the legislation passes, it would go directly to Trump’s desk for his signature or veto.
The surveillance tools have long been a concern for Trump who believes the intelligence community improperly abused the FISA court to surveil his former adviser Carter Page. A Department of Justice Inspector General report found the FBI made repeated errors and misrepresentations before the FISA Court in an effort to obtain the warrants against Page. Meanwhile, progressives and libertarians also wanted more privacy reforms to protect individual liberties.
“With a FISA bill, nobody is ever really that happy,” Pelosi said about the legislation to reauthorize and reform national security authorities in the U.S.A. Freedom Act. “But the fact is … we have to have a bill. If we don’t have a bill, our civil liberties are less protected.”