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The House of Representatives votes to renew the FISA spy tool after earlier Republican revolt

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted Friday to extend a powerful surveillance program, two days after a gang of 19 conservative privacy hawks rose up against Republican leadership and blocked legislation on the spot when their demands were not met.

The vote was 273 to 147 and was largely bipartisan, with both Republicans and Democrats voting in favor of the legislation. Of those who supported the legislation, 126 were Republicans and 147 were Democrats. It followed a dramatic vote to narrowly reject an amendment that would have required surveillance orders in more situations.

Earlier Friday, conservative rebels ended their blockade and allowed the bill to move forward after striking a deal with Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and his team. Under the agreement, the reauthorization period of the spy powers – known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – would be reduced to two years from the originally proposed five years.

Republicans said this would give former President Donald Trump, who said this week he wants to “kill” FISA, a chance to put his stamp on the law if he wins back the White House.

“We just gave President Trump a blow,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a top Trump ally and one of the 19 rebels. “The previous version of this bill would have extended reauthorization beyond Trump’s presidency. Now President Trump is getting an at-bat to fix the system that has victimized him more than any other American.”

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Before the vote, Johnson set up a secure room near the floor where lawmakers could view classified documents.

Conservatives also received a majority vote on a bipartisan amendment led by one of the 19 members, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., That would require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants to search the communications of U.S. citizens and permanent residents collected while surveilling foreigners abroad. And Johnson agreed to hold a vote on a bill from Rep. next week. Warren DavidsonR-Ohio, the government should obtain a warrant to buy private data of U.S. citizens from brokers.

“I’m disappointed with where we are today, but it could get worse,” Davidson said in an interview after voting Friday in favor of the procedural rule that he had helped with the refueling two days earlier. “We don’t work in a think tank, we work in a legislature, so you make progress where you can.”

The bill is expected to go to the Senate next week, ahead of the April 19 deadline to extend or end FISA Section 702. Some Republicans have blocked transmission to the Senate as they use a procedural move to try to force a new vote on the entire bill.

The successful vote in the House of Representatives comes just hours before Johnson is scheduled to meet Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for an event on “election integrity”; Republican lawmakers said they expect FISA will be among the other issues they will discuss.

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Strange bedfellows for privacy rights

Before the bill passed, the House voted 212-212 on a bipartisan amendment proposed by a rare left-right coalition aimed at reining in the government’s use of unauthorized surveillance of American persons. The amendment failed due to a tied vote. In addition to Biggs, it was championed by Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash; Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California; Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; and Davidson.

The White House fought to kill the amendment, with Attorney General Merrick Garland and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan calling on lawmakers Friday morning to encourage them to vote against it, two sources familiar with the calls said.

Ultimately, 128 Republicans and 84 Democrats voted in favor of the amendment. Johnson voted against it, drawing further ire from his conservative critics.

“Speaker Johnson was the final vote. He was the one who made sure the arrest warrant amendment failed,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who is threatening to remove him from power. “And I think this will tell a lot of people that what I said is true: What is the difference between Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Johnson, and there isn’t one.”

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Officials told lawmakers it would prohibit the government from “accessing lawfully collected information already in its possession to identify and disrupt critical threats to the American people,” according to talking points provided by a source to NBC News, which added added that the measure would make the US “less safe.”

Nadler, in a rare clash with the Biden White House, called the FISA bill “completely inadequate” and said it “does not represent real reforms” without a warrant requirement. After speaking, Jayapal, the chairman of the Progressive Caucus, took the floor Friday to dispute the intelligence community’s arguments for the need for the current law, calling the changes a necessary balance between protecting security and civilian freedoms. She said Congress must end a loophole that hampers Americans’ privacy.

Jordan, in a moment of camaraderie with his usual enemies, said he wants to thank “the Democrats” on his committee for “working together to defend a fundamental principle.”

But Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, sided with the White House, saying passage of the amendment would mean the “Communist Party in China, Hezbollah and Hamas get full recruitment in the United States ”, since a warrant would be needed for the government to access their communications.

“We’d go blind,” Turner said. “Our country would be unsafe.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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