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House calls off vote to reauthorize expired surveillance powers

GOP lawmakers push to reopen Congress
GOP lawmakers push to reopen Congress 05:11

In an abrupt turn of events, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released an update saying that there would be no more votes Wednesday night — just before lawmakers were about to take the final vote to reauthorize expired national security surveillance authorities. 

Earlier Wednesday evening, President Trump vowed to "quickly veto" the measure, which had already passed with a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate. It was initially crafted in March by Attorney General Bill Barr, the president's conservative allies in the House and House Democrats. The House passed that version of the bill with Republican support, and then the Senate added an amendment providing additional protections in the FISA court. The addition of the amendment meant the House would need to vote on the bill again.

But the Justice Department announced that it opposed the changes made to the bill in the Senate, as well as another amendment that was to be added in the House. 

"The Department opposes the Senate-passed bill in its current form and also opposes the Lofgren amendment in the House. Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department's ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House," Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in a statement. "If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation."

Mr. Trump, too, urged Republicans to reject the bill, and in a tweet made reference to a Justice Department watchdog report that had found errors in FISA court applications to surveil a Trump former campaign official.

"I hope all Republican House Members vote NO on FISA until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!" Mr. Trump wrote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prefers the Senate version, which she called "very courageous" in an interview with PBS "NewsHour" anchor Judy Woodruff Wednesday. Pelosi said the amended version "broke new ground" and is "very, very progressive" in terms of the protections of security, privacy and civil rights. She said she hoped people would vote for it, but "if they don't, just, we'll send back our original House bill.

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had already called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pull the bill reauthorizing authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act because it was to take place using a vote by proxy, a controversial rule change allowing members to vote on behalf of their absent colleagues. McCarthy argued that proxy voting is unconstitutional.

"I've asked the Democrats to hold this bill up. They do not have enough members here to pass that bill. They would be doing it unconstitutionally. So it wouldn't go anywhere because it's doing it by proxy," McCarthy said in an interview with "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday morning.

Under the Constitution, the House has the authority to operate under its own rules, which Democrats argue allows for voting by proxy. House Republicans have filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia federal District Court challenging the constitutionality of proxy voting.

Seventy-three House Democrats opted for proxy voting, meaning they would not be in Washington Wednesday or Thursday for roll call votes. No Republicans signed up for proxy voting.

Because the House currently has 431 members, 16% of the House will be voting this week without being on the floor. The House Democratic Caucus currently has 233 members; therefore, 29% of all House Democrats will be absent and vote by proxy.

Kimberly Brown contributed to this report.

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