House Democrats were unable to hold together their caucus on a key intelligence vote on Wednesday, as a coalition of Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and liberals helped defeat a measure to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as the deadline approaches.
The measure, which failed 191 to 229, would have extended the bill an additional three weeks to work out differences with the Senate on the issue of granting immunity to telecom companies which aided the federal government in wiretapping.
The Democratic bill was undone by strong opposition from Republicans and 34 Democrats, including both members of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition who want to see a bill passed, and liberal members who oppose many other aspects of the wiretapping program.
Now Democratic leaders are left scrambling as they try to find a solution before the law expires on Friday. The temporary extension also faced a veto threat from President Bush and strong Republican opposition in the Senate, so it had little chance of becoming law. The Senate passed a broad FISA bill with telecom immunity provisions on Tuesday, 68-29.
"We have a situation where our members have to understand we have very limited options," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).
"I was surprised at the number of members that voted against [the extension] but different members had different reasons," he added.
The vote was a defeat for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who worked furiously behind the scenes for an extension, saying President Bush is trying to "foment fear" by claiming that another extension would harm intelligence gathering capabilities.