Let’s start with the news: The House won’t vote this week on competing bills to reform FISA surveillance authority.
The backstory of how this happened is yet another terrific example of the predominant criticism of Mike Johnson’s speakership: He is either unwilling, unable or disinterested in making big decisions.
Johnson flip-flopped for a few weeks when it came to extending FISA, especially the controversial Section 702 provision.
Johnson first said he would extend FISA authority as part of the NDAA — but only until February. Then Johnson said he wouldn’t. And then finally, the speaker agreed to include a FISA extension in the NDAA package that will run until April.
As a consolation prize, of sorts, to those who want to reform FISA, Johnson said he would put House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) competing bills on the floor simultaneously. Turner’s bill was supported by national security hawks, many members of the leadership and those who oversee intelligence agencies.
Jordan’s bill, meanwhile, was bipartisan and got support from Rep. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.), the committee’s top Democrat, and some key progressives.
The idea was to put both bills up for a vote and see which one got more support. The winner would be sent onto the Senate.
But Johnson declined to say which approach he preferred, instead allowing an open turf war to explode inside the House Republican Conference. That intra-conference clash came to a head Monday afternoon.
In a closed GOP meeting, Turner said Jordan’s bill eliminated provisions that the government uses to go after child pornography. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a close Jordan ally, said Turner was “f–king lying.”
The back and forth over the competing FISA bills continued for more than an hour.
At one point, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is leaving Congress at the end of the month, went to the microphone and said that everyone needed to take a deep breath. McCarthy noted that he and Turner both have experience in the upside of FISA intelligence gathering.
But McCarthy warned against bringing both Johnson and Turner’s bills to the floor. He advised House GOP lawmakers to take the time afforded by the four-month FISA extension in the NDAA and come to a compromise by April.
And that’s what House Republicans are doing.
One other point: Consider just how many deadlines there are in the first few months of 2024.
January: Tranche one of government funding.
February: Tranche two of government funding.
March: FAA reauthorization.
April: FISA reauthorization.
— Jake Sherman