House Republicans blast ‘cry wolf’ conservatives who tanked FISA renewal bill

House Republican lawmakers left a closed-door meeting late on Wednesday afternoon furious at their 19 GOP colleagues who blocked the chamber from advancing a bill to renew a key surveillance tool of the federal government.

‘When you have a majority, where members in the majority will not support the rules and the procedures set forth by the majority, you effectively are turning control over to the minority party. And that’s what these members are doing,’ Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., told Fox News Digital.

It comes after a normally sleepy procedural vote, known as a rule vote, on a bill to reform and renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act failed 193 to 228 Wednesday afternoon — the seventh time a rule vote failed this Congress. Prior to that, a rule vote had not failed in two decades.

‘Here’s what frustrates me — is that the same members who are taking down this rule are vociferously advocating for reforming FISA. There are 56 major reforms of FISA 702 that are embedded in the base bill. I understand they don’t think those 56 reforms go far enough…But by taking down the rule and by making it impossible to pass this reform base bill, they’re gonna get nothing,’ Barr said.

Conservative privacy hawks who tanked the bill were angry over how it was handled, including the exclusion of an amendment mandating warrants for the purchase of U.S. citizens’ data from third-party data brokers.

But Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., suggested that the group’s tactics on House floor votes take away from their actual goals.

‘I think people make good, salient arguments. The problem is in the delivery — if all you do is scream, no one listens to you anymore,’ he said. ‘And I think there can be merits on lots of good arguments, but when you cry wolf all the time, when everything’s a no, you undermine your credibility.’

A rule vote would typically fall along party lines, with even lawmakers opposed to the bill voting in favor of allowing it to proceed if it was introduced by their own side. However, small factions of the House GOP’s razor-thin majority have weaponized rule votes to kill their own party’s legislation as a form of protest against their leadership.

‘What I heard in there was that they weren’t p—ed off about the underlying bill. The FISA bill itself was 56 reforms, all that stuff. That’s good,’ another GOP lawmaker told Fox News Digital. ‘Why they voted against the rule, it wasn’t because of the FISA bill itself. It was the process. It was the amendments that they didn’t get allowed to bring to the floor that actually made them move against it.’

Section 702 is a tool that allows the federal government to surveil non-Americans on foreign soil with suspected terror links without a warrant, even if the person on the other side of their communications is an American.

The fight ahead of its April 19 expiry deadline has put Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., in a difficult spot between the House Judiciary Committee and its allies, and the U.S. intelligence community and national security hawks in Congress. The former have cast Section 702 as a tool of exploitation and privacy infringement, while the latter have maintained it’s a narrowly focused tool critical to preventing terror attacks.

Another issue for GOP hardliners has been Johnson’s opposition to an amendment backed by Judiciary Republicans, which would force the federal government to seek a warrant to query data about a U.S. citizen.

One of the 19 Republicans who sunk the bill, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good, R-Va., told reporters, ‘Some of us would rather see it expire than see it not reformed properly.’

But another GOP lawmaker who is supportive of the bill argued that such an amendment would gut the tool’s purpose. 

They explained that if a suspected terrorist overseas is communicating with a U.S. citizen at home, a Section 702 search would already pick up their specific communications with that U.S. citizen. The amendment would force authorities to seek a warrant before seeing the contents of that communication, which critics have warned could waste valuable time in the event of a serious threat.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, meanwhile, suggested to reporters on Wednesday evening that letting Section 702 expire on April 19 would have dire consequences, warning, ‘We will go blind on April 20.’

‘Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of misinformation about FISA. FISA is not a bulk data collection program. It is not spying on Americans,’ he continued. ‘It is collecting foreigners’ data that are abroad that represent a very small group of 250,000 who are a national security threat. Unfortunately, the proposed warrant would render our ability to see communications with people who… are with national security threats like the head of ISIS, head of Hamas, head of Al Qaeda, in an unworkable structure.’

It’s not immediately clear what House GOP leaders’ next steps would be. Multiple GOP lawmakers told Fox News Digital that among the considerations are a short-term extension of the current Section 702 program, which both sides of the argument have criticized as ripe for abuse, or being forced to take up the Senate’s renewal bill.

Privacy hawks, meanwhile, are pushing Johnson to allow as many amendment votes on the bill as requested to ensure all members have a voice in shaping the bill — even if those amendments would not get past the Democrat-controlled Senate.

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