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Mike Johnson

Inside the speaker’s neck-snapping flip-flop on FISA

In the course of roughly one week, Speaker Mike Johnson took the following positions on the renewal of FISA’s Section 702, a key provision that allows the federal government to surveil foreign nationals operating outside the United States:

Nov. 29: Johnson told Senate Republicans he wanted to extend FISA in the NDAA, the annual defense policy bill, until Feb. 2. This would’ve lined up the expiration of FISA authority with the end of the second tranche of government funding. This approach didn’t make a ton of sense.

Dec. 5: Johnson then told a meeting of House Republicans that he was considering putting two FISA bills on the floor — one from House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and another from House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio). Whichever bill got more votes would then be sent to the Senate.

Around the same time, we scooped that Johnson had told NDAA negotiators he didn’t want a FISA extension attached to the defense authorization bill. Johnson got cheers from conservatives for this statement.

Dec. 6: Johnson gave in to demands that he put a FISA extension in the NDAA package. And this time, Johnson agreed to extend Section 702 authority until mid-April.

This baffled Jordan, whose bipartisan FISA reform bill — which includes new search warrant requirements for 702 queries on U.S. persons — was adopted by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday by a huge 35-2 margin. Jordan wanted his bill on the House floor next week.

Johnson’s flip-flopping on these issues is somewhat understandable. After former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was pushed out of the job by conservative hardliners, any successor would be hesitant to make big decisions on sensitive topics.

This might help explain why Johnson paired $14 billion in new Israel aid with cuts to IRS funding. A clean Israel bill would have cleared the House with 400 votes and put Senate Democrats in a tough position, sources in both parties say.

However, Johnson wanted to appease conservatives upset about emergency spending, and he caved to their demands for an offset, despite the political downside.

Yet this situation underscores some of the frustration with Johnson within his leadership and the broader House Republican Conference. The frustration is twofold.

No. 1: Johnson seems to have trouble making decisions, which ends up paralyzing his GOP colleagues. Without clear direction, the leadership team can’t prepare the rank and file for legislation that is coming down the pike.

No. 2: Johnson is angering the rank and file because of his indecision. For instance, while we don’t cover Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) intensely, we’ll note that MTG was furious that she was asked to sign onto the NDAA conference report after leadership added the FISA extension.

Jordan, for his part, said he didn’t agree with Johnson’s decision to extend FISA until April, but wouldn’t comment further on how the speaker has handled the issue. As of Wednesday night, Jordan had no plans to meet with Johnson.

“I wish that wasn’t the case,” Jordan told us on the NDAA-FISA move. “Ours is ready to go now. We had a great strong markup and a strong vote.”

Our main takeaway here is that Johnson is still struggling to figure it all out. The House is oriented around the speaker. Making decisions by committee — or trying to appease everyone — is a tough way to run the institution.

— Jake Sherman

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