House Democrats withdraw foreign surveillance bill as Trump veto pledge threatens passage

Key Points
  • The House pulls a bill to reauthorize foreign surveillance tools after Republican opposition and President Donald Trump's veto threat jeopardized its passage. 
  • Some liberal Democrats also opposed the legislation. 
  • The Senate approved the surveillance measure earlier this month.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks about the coronavirus response during her weekly news conference with Capitol Hill reporters in Washington May 7, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

House Democrats withdrew a bill Thursday to reauthorize foreign surveillance powers as Republicans united to oppose the Senate-passed proposal. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced he would pull the legislation Thursday morning after the chamber failed to pass it on Wednesday. As the House considered the measure Wednesday, President Donald Trump pledged to veto it. 

"At the request of the Speaker of the House, I am withdrawing consideration of the FISA Act," Hoyer said in a written statement. "The two-thirds of the Republican party that voted for this bill in March have indicated they are going to vote against it now. I am told they are doing so at the request of the President. I believe this to be against the security interest of the United States and the safety of the American people."

In a letter to colleagues Thursday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats want to go to conference committee negotiations with the Senate to reach a deal on a bill. 

The House on Wednesday scrapped a plan to vote on a bipartisan amendment to the surveillance powers bill, which was designed to limit warrantless searches of Americans' internet history. The decision not to change legislation the Senate passed this month came as opposition from Republicans and the left wing of the Democratic Party threatened the measure's passage.

The bill would reauthorize divisive foreign surveillance tools that aim to help U.S. law enforcement officials track suspected terrorists or spies. Civil liberties advocates have long argued the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act powers give the government too much authority to monitor Americans' communications abroad. Conservatives became more skeptical of the monitoring tools as they alleged abuses during the FBI's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

GOP leaders encouraged members to vote against the proposal after Trump and the Justice Department said they opposed it.

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

Donald Trump tweet

In a follow-up tweet Thursday morning, he thanked Republicans for opposing the bill and argued it would "perpetuate the abuse" of the Russia probe. 

Donald Trump tweet 2

Trump in particular has targeted the surveillance tools after an inspector general's report outlined issues with applications to monitor former Trump campaign aide Carter Page as part of the investigation. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had urged Democrats to pull the bill. He contended that if they moved forward with a vote on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act powers, they would be "playing politics."

At the same time, leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced their opposition to reauthorizing the powers on Wednesday. Caucus co-Chair Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said "the people of this country are over-policed & over-surveilled," adding that "I cannot vote to continue and expand that surveillance today."

Mark Pocan tweet

The House easily passed a largely similar Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization bill in March.

Democratic congressional leaders cited national security concerns as they urged representatives to support the legislation Wednesday. Hoyer conceded the bill is "not perfect."

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