Speaker Mike Johnson
Image: Office of Congressman Mike Johnson via Wikimedia Commons (PD)

House GOP lawmakers scramble to find path forward on Section 702 extension

House Republican leadership may try to bring updated legislation that would renew controversial surveillance powers as soon as next week, though what provisions the bill might contain is in flux and the entire push could ultimately be abandoned altogether.

The tumult surrounding reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is the latest example of the disarray that has seized a GOP conference reeling from this week’s failure to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas or approve military aid for Israel.

The program, which expires on April 19, allows U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance of the electronic communications of foreigners outside the country, but also sweeps up the personal data of an unknown number of Americans.

Politico reported that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) might hold a floor vote on a revamped measure that resembles legislation approved by the House Intelligence Committee last year.

However, a congressional aide pushed back on that assertion, arguing too much is unknown.

“We don't have any base text. We don't have a bill,” the aide, who was granted anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations, told Recorded Future News.

For example, it’s unclear if language from the Intelligence panel that would allow the massive 702 database compiled by the National Security Agency to help vet immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally will make the final cut.

Text that authorized the use of the spying powers against Mexican cartels and Chinese fentanyl manufacturers also remains in doubt following objections from some GOP members.

In addition, the aide said, it’s unknown if members of the House Judiciary Committee, which passed its own privacy-minded 702 bill, and other policymakers would be able to offer amendments during any floor process — such as a warrant requirement to access the NSA’s cache or previously introduced legislation to close certain loopholes that allow data brokers to sell consumer information to law enforcement and federal agencies.

“I’d say there’s definitely a chance, I’d say 60-40” a bill is voted on next week, according to the aide.

The sudden rush of activity follows several weeks of closed-door talks.

After lawmakers approved a short-term, “clean” extension of 702 late last year, Johnson tapped Majority Leader Steve Scalise (LA) to shepherd a Republicans-only working group to winnow the two competing measures down to a single bill.

The group includes Reps. Darin LaHood (IL), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Laurel Lee (FL) and Andy Biggs (AZ) — all of whom had been previously assigned to a bipartisan team tasked with crafting legislation that could garner bipartisan support on the floor.

That effort ultimately failed, resulting in the two bills.

Scalise also recruited Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), Diana Harshbarger (TN) and Jen Kiggans (VA) to assist in renewing the surveillance authorities.

A Scalise spokesperson confirmed Johnson had authorized him to oversee 702 talks, as well as the three new GOP members.

The situation is “very fluid,” Matthew Tragesser, a spokesman for Biggs said in a text message. “We continue to work on language to try to cure the millions of abuses that the federal government has imposed on American citizens through” the 702 program.

“It will be up to the speaker when he brings a bill to the floor,” he added.

With the Senate set to go on recess next week, and the April deadline fast approaching, the aide predicted the two chambers won’t have time to hammer out a final, compromise bill and that any 702 renewal measure would likely be hitched to one of two upcoming government funding bills.

Congressional leaders in January approved a pair of stopgap bills to keep the federal government running into March. A temporary spending measure runs until March 1 for some federal agencies, with the remainder of government operations funded to March 8.

“I don't see any other way that this gets done,” the aide said.

At the time of publication, Johnson’s office had not responded to a question about when a decision would be made to hold a floor vote on 702 reauthorization.

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Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak

is the senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. Prior to joining Recorded Future News in 2021, he spent more than five years at Politico, where he covered digital and national security developments across Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community. He previously was a reporter at The Hill, National Journal Group and Inside Washington Publishers.