Hard-liners vow retaliation against Republicans who sank FISA warrant mandate

Hard-line conservatives are turning up the heat on their GOP colleagues who voted Friday to kill a proposed warrant requirement for domestic communications caught up in foreign surveillance operations.

That provision — offered as an amendment to a larger bill renewing a key section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — went down on the House floor in a 212-212 vote, with 86 Republicans and 126 Democrats voting against it. By House rules, a tie vote fails.

The outcome infuriated the conservative champions of the warrant mandate, who accused its opponents in both parties of empowering the “deep state” while undermining constitutional liberties. Their anger was aimed most squarely at fellow Republicans, including Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who voted against the warrant requirement and in favor of the final FISA package.

Some hard-liners said they’re ready to travel to GOP districts to campaign against those who tanked the amendment.

“Every one of these members who voted against a warrant requirement, they are the deciding vote. They own it,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said after the vote. “And some of them may see me showing up in their districts very soon to campaign against them and to stand for the Constitution.”

Although the broader FISA package passed through the House easily — the bipartisan vote was 273 to 147 — the hard-liners demanding new warrant protections immediately blocked its transmission to the Senate. The move will have no bearing on the fate of the underlying bill, which the House is expected to send along to the upper chamber when lawmakers return to Washington on Monday.

But the weekend delay is designed to draw attention to Friday’s floor action, stir up conservative voters who might support the additional warrant protection and pile pressure on Republicans who voted against the measure this week.

“This is not off of the House floor, so everybody’s got to go home and answer their constituents over the next 72 hours about why they are siding with the intelligence agencies and the deep state and the swamp over the rights and the liberties of the American people,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said.

“That was the choice today,” he continued. “And every single person in this body, no matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, voted against an amendment to protect Americans, to protect them with a warrant, and they’ve got to answer to it.”

Reauthorization of the nation’s warranty spying powers has been a months-long headache for Johnson, who had been a vocal critic of FISA’s Section 702 as a member of the Judiciary Committee, but he reversed course upon taking the Speaker’s gavel.

Section 702 empowers the nation’s intelligence agencies to spy only on noncitizens living abroad. But in the course of those operations, the government frequently sweeps up communications from Americans in contact with the foreigners under surveillance.

Privacy hawks in both parties — including many on the Judiciary Committee — maintain that it’s unconstitutional for the government to peruse those communications without securing a warrant from a judge.

“Current law allows the government to collect sensitive and personal information on private citizens without a warrant. That is blatantly unconstitutional,” Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Ore.) said.

Yet supporters of Section 702 — including those on the Intelligence Committee — say it’s one of the government’s greatest national security weapons. The new warrant requirement, they warn, would put the country at much greater risk.

“They now want to apply — which we’ve never done in U.S. law before — a warrant on searching a database of lawfully collected data,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a member of the Intelligence panel. “That’s [like] saying a police department can’t walk into their own evidence locker without getting a warrant — even though everything that’s inside was already collected via warrant.”

Johnson has defended his shift from 702 critic to 702 champion, saying he was simply given more information about the nature of the program after his rise to Speaker.

“When I was a member of Judiciary, I saw all of the abuses of the FBI — there were terrible abuses, over and over and over,” Johnson told reporters earlier in the week. “And then when I became Speaker, I … got the confidential briefing from sort of the other perspective on that, to understand the necessity of Section 702 of FISA and how important it is for national security.”

That explanation has done little to appease Johnson’s conservative critics, who are accusing him of abandoning his roots as a constitutionalist.

“We’re very disappointed that when we sent Mike Johnson away from the Judiciary Committee, he departed from some of the views that he held deeply,” Gaetz said. “We made Mike Johnson Speaker so that the Speakership would be more like Mike Johnson, not so Mike Johnson could be more like the Speakership.”

Still, Gaetz — who led the effort to remove former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from power last year — said he’s not ready to launch the same attack on Johnson.

“I think a motion to vacate right now would almost certainly turn the House over to Democrats, and that’s why I won’t support it,” he said.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — a staunch FISA critic — has already introduced a motion to vacate, though she hasn’t said what might compel her to force a vote on it.

Whatever the ultimate backlash of Johnson’s support for FISA, its immediate effect was to ruffle the feathers of the conservative rabble-rousers already upset with the Speaker’s handling of the office.

“The will of the majority in there was to have a warrant provision, and he was on the other side of that,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), another FISA critic, said Friday. “There’s no red lines here. I just think he lost a lot of capital with that vote.”

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