Why a Bipartisan Revolt Killed the House's Spy Bill

Efforts to reform a government surveillance program have gone up in flames, with House Democrats officially withdrawing consideration of a bill on Thursday after it was pummeled with last-minute, bipartisan rebuke.

The move to nix a vote that would reauthorize expired portions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) comes after a collapse of broad support for legislation that was the culmination of months of negotiations between the White House, the Justice Department and Congress.

Top Democrats blamed their GOP colleagues for killing the bill because Republicans opposed the measure after President Donald Trump abruptly began lobbying members of his party against the legislation and threatened a veto. Few, if any, Republicans were expected to buck the president.

"Republicans abandoned their commitment to security," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. "This has always been bipartisan."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) considered the opposition to be "against the security interest of the United States and the safety of the American people."

However, while it was unclear if Democrats would have received any Republican votes, Democrats themselves lacked the support from their own members to muster the bill across the finish line—despite their chamber majority.

Spy bill dies Congress amid bipartisan revolt
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, May 27 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

The next step is for a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers to meet and make alterations in hopes to strike yet another deal that satisfies members in both chambers, as well as the president.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested to reporters that while lawmakers work to iron out the differences, they should do a short-term extension of the original FISA programs, which lapsed due to congressional inaction in March. He also raised the issue of the unmasking of Trump campaign officials by former Obama administration officials, but that subject is unrelated to FISA.

The rebellion that transcended party lines erupted on Tuesday and Wednesday—when the House was scheduled to originally vote on the matter—even though there was broad support for the FISA renewal just hours beforehand. In March, the House approved a bill that was similar to the one they were forced to scrap by 278-136, with 126 Republicans on board. And in the Senate, a slightly altered version passed 80-16, with most Republicans backing it.

But several major significant revelations led to the legislation's ultimate defeat.

A constant drip of news over the past few weeks over how FISA was used in the origins of the Russia investigation acted as fuel to the fire of arguments by Republicans and the president that people in Trump's orbit were unfairly targeted. The House version also included an amendment to curb the collection of Americans' internet search history, which failed by a single vote in the Senate. That amendment also created problems.

In the end, Trump successfully lobbied House Republicans in the 11th hour to oppose the proposal.

"Thank you to our GREAT Republican Congressmen & Congresswomen on your incredibly important blockage last night of a FISA Bill that would just perpetuate the abuse that produced the Greatest Political Crime In the History of the U.S., the Russian Witch-Hunt," he tweeted Thursday. "Fantastic Job!"

Pelosi said GOP support "disappeared with the twinkle of a tweet" thanks to Trump's first social media post against the measure that occurred Tuesday night.

The Justice Department also reversed its position to oppose the surveillance reform, despite Attorney General William Barr negotiating the legislation with Congress and initially supporting the bill.

And progressive Democrats coordinated a last-minute revolt amid disagreement over the amendment regarding the collection of online search history, the language of which was changed slightly from the Senate's version.