House lawmakers reject renewal of key US intelligence program

washington — U.S. House lawmakers rejected an attempt to reform a controversial foreign intelligence program Wednesday, the latest blow in Speaker Mike Johnson’s effort to lead a narrow Republican majority.

A renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, failed to advance, 228-193, following a warning from former President Donald Trump on TruthSocial.

Trump said that FISA “was illegally used against me, and many others. They spied on my campaign!!” he wrote, using all capital letters.

A Justice Department investigation found in 2019 that surveillance of Trump campaign aide Carter Page continued for months after it should have ended.

The law — also referred to as Section 702 — allows U.S. intelligence agencies to collect data on foreigners overseas without obtaining a warrant. But it has received the most criticism for so-called “backdoor searches” that allow collection of U.S. citizens’ data. An attempted reform would have required the FBI to secure a warrant before collecting data.

“We’re enacting sweeping changes — 50 reforms, 56 to be exact — to the program that are in the base text that will stop the abuse of politicized FBI queries and prevent another Russia hoax debacle, among many other important reforms,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday morning. “No more of the intelligence community relying on fake news reports to order a FISA order, no more collusion.”

But Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene — who has filed a procedural motion to remove Johnson from the speakership — said those reforms were not enough.

“It’s like asking the deep state to hold itself accountable,” Greene told reporters Wednesday. “The FBI is abusing American people’s trust. The [Justice Department] has abused the American people’s trust. So, this doesn’t give me confidence that it will stop it.”

Nineteen House Republicans voted against the bill. Democrats said Wednesday that the proposed FISA reforms had not secured their votes.

“Whatever the vote count is, or whatever happens to that, it’s because the speaker has chosen not to advance this issue in a single standalone process. If he chooses to go a different route, then we’ll reassess,” Representative Pete Aguilar, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday morning.

An attempt to pass surveillance laws failed in December when House leadership pulled a vote amid internal Republican divisions.

Johnson argued to colleagues in a letter on Friday that the law would “establish new procedures to rein in the FBI, increase accountability at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, impose penalties for wrongdoing, and institute unprecedented transparency across the FISA process so we no longer have to wait years to uncover potential abuses.”

Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, warned against some of the proposed changes in a speech Tuesday to the American Bar Association.

“Bottom line, a warrant requirement would be the equivalent of rebuilding the pre-9/11 intelligence ‘wall,’ ” he said in his prepared remarks. “As the threats to our homeland continue to evolve, the agility and effectiveness of 702 will be essential to the FBI’s ability — and really our mandate from the American people — to keep them safe for years to come.”

Unless Congress acts, authorization for the program expires on April 19.

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.