Maybe Congress hasn’t gotten pushed all the way back to Square One on renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), but it’s not easy to see a path forward, either. Conservatives and progressives combined forces in the House to kill Nancy Pelosi’s renewal bill, which finally got pulled from the floor this morning. Donald Trump upended a fragile renewal agreement, thanks to his anger over the role of intelligence in the debunked Russia-collusion claim that tied up his presidency for the past three years.
As it turns out, that has its costs:
House Democratic leaders on Thursday withdrew legislation that would revive expired F.B.I. tools to investigate terrorism and espionage and add privacy protections for Americans, after a fragile bipartisan compromise on the bill collapsed following an abrupt repudiation by President Trump.
The retreat left uncertain the fate of efforts to overhaul national-security surveillance while extending three partly expired tools that federal law enforcement officials use in such cases. Just days ago, the bill had appeared poised to become law, after initial approval by both the House and Senate.
But support for the measure among Republicans collapsed after Mr. Trump intervened to urge them to reject it, and progressives then said they could not support the bill without greater privacy protections. With votes bleeding from both flanks, House leaders delayed a vote late Wednesday and then called if off altogether on Thursday rather than let it fail.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had spent much of the last 24 hours trying to salvage the bill, said the House would instead initiate negotiations with the Senate to bridge their differences before attempting to clear the bill for Mr. Trump’s signature.
So what now? Technically, this means that the FBI can’t follow up on any US citizens that might be in contact with foreign spies, so that makes counterintelligence and counterterrorism efforts much more difficult. Congress passed FISA after Watergate to proscribe domestic intel surveillance on Americans unless absolutely necessary, with a warrant authorized by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge. Without FISA, the FBI can’t get warrants, and without warrants, domestic surveillance on US persons is a crime. That might present a few problems when it comes to threats like home-grown jihadis, foreign disinformation campaigns, and so on.