Texas Republicans Split on FISA Renewal

FBI | Image by Dzelat/Shutterstock

Congress passed a broad military funding bill in December that included a renewal for a polarizing law that the FBI has used to surveil U.S. citizens.

Tucked inside the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that is formalized annually to fund the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense, was a last-minute amendment for a four-month renewal of the infamous Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702.

FISA was ostensibly written to facilitate intelligence gathering on foreign actors, but FBI agents allegedly misused the process to spy on former President Donald Trump, his administration, and others close to him on U.S. soil without obtaining a warrant.

The House Judiciary Committee had been working to reform the FISA law to limit the FBI’s use of the program and to require warrants when surveilling a U.S. citizen, as reported by The Texan. But the reforms failed to gain sufficient support, and the program that was set to expire at the end of the year was given a four-month extension.

The amended NDAA passed in the House 310-118, with bipartisan support as well as opposition, largely due to the FISA issue. The Texas delegation reflected that bipartisan split, as 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted for the bill while two Texas Democrats joined nine of the state’s Republicans to oppose it.

GOP lawmakers clashed over whether they believed FISA was used to violate the rights of U.S. citizens.

In a statement criticizing the version of the NDAA that was passed, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) said the bill “has attached a completely unrelated ‘clean’ reauthorization of FISA with zero reforms. It is imperative that we strengthen our Fourth Amendment and stop the corrupt upper echelon of the federal government from spying on everyday Americans. Unfortunately, today, Congress reauthorized the status quo.”

His House GOP colleague Chip Roy (R-TX) questioned why House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) brought the bill up for a vote with the FISA extension in the first place.

“Someone explain this to me. [House GOP] is being asked by [Speaker Johnson] to vote FOR this NDAA — a bill that forsakes virtually all reforms passed this summer in the House … all to ADD an extension of abusive FISA spying until April 2025…”

However, Weber and Roy’s colleague Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) denied that FISA could even be used to spy on what he referred to as “innocent” Americans and said that information on Americans gathered indirectly through FISA is lawfully obtained.

“I actually hear from members of Congress suggesting that, under section 702, the U.S. government can spy on innocent citizens by listening to their phone calls and reading their emails,” Cornyn said during a Senate hearing on the FISA program. He dismissed this notion as a misunderstanding, stating, “702 is a foreign intelligence surveillance act — that’s why the ‘F’ is in foreign — means that it targets foreigners overseas, not in the United States.”

He then went on to argue, “It seems kind of odd to say information that’s been lawfully collected, if you want to actually use that information, you have to go back and ask permission for something that has already been lawfully collected.”

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