House Conservatives Deal a New Blow to Speaker Johnson

House Conservatives Deal a New Blow to Speaker Johnson

Sipa USA

The far-right revolt against Speaker Mike Johnson got dialed up a notch Wednesday as a group of 19 House Republicans defeated a procedural vote on a bill to reauthorize the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), dealing another blow to GOP leadership.

The bill that was blocked, the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, would reauthorize for five years the warrantless surveillance of foreigners’ communications while also imposing some reforms ahead of an April 19 deadline.

Critics have long raised privacy and civil liberty concerns, warning that Americans’ communications can be intercepted and searched under the program. Some House Republicans demanded that the FBI be required to obtain warrants before searching for information on U.S. citizens, and former President Donald Trump had posted a call on social media for members of his party to “KILL FISA.”

Johnson had struggled to build support for the reauthorization bill as Republicans were deeply divided, but he went ahead with a rule vote Wednesday, essentially daring his members to vote against it. They did, tanking the vote by a 193-to-228 margin. The failed vote also derailed a leadership plan to bring up an amendment adding the warrant requirement that many on the right demanded.

It marked the fourth time in Johnson’s 168-day tenure as speaker that the House has handed him an embarrassing defeat of this sort. Before this Congress, a rule vote hadn’t failed in two decades. In this Republican-controlled House, it has happened seven times since last year, including three under former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, derailing Republican leadership’s agenda.

The vote comes as Johnson faces a threat from Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is pushing to oust the speaker less than six months after he won the job. Johnson met with Greene on Wednesday, but the Georgia firebrand stuck by her threat afterward.

“There’s two issues that are coming up that are extremely important: FISA and Ukraine,” Greene told reporters. She warned Johnson against funding “the deep state” via the FISA bill before reiterating her opposition to aiding Ukraine. “The funding of Ukraine must end,” she said. “We are not responsible for a war in Ukraine. We are responsible for the war on our border, and I made that clear to Speaker Johnson.”

Johnson told reporters earlier in the day that he has always considered Greene a friend and that he and she are both conservatives and don’t disagree on philosophy but do differ sometimes on strategy. He defended his decision to avoid a government shutdown by passing spending bills that conservatives despised and said Greene’s pending motion to oust him wouldn’t help the Republican Party. “It would be chaos in the House,” he said about her threat before their meeting.

Numerous Republicans have made clear they also disagree with Greene’s push to remove Johnson, who has also indicated that he plans to bring a Ukraine aid bill to a floor vote, though the details of that plan remain unclear. “It’s an impossible job. The lord Jesus himself could not manage this conference,” Texas Republican Rep. Troy Nehls told reporters Tuesday about the speaker’s job, defending Johnson.

Greene insisted, though, that the feedback she received on a five-page letter criticizing Johnson was positive and that she has support for her push to remove Johnson. One unnamed rank-and-file Republican told The Washington Post recently that the “silent majority” in the GOP conference is moving away from the speaker.

What’s next: The pressure is building on Johnson, who must now scramble to figure out how to address the FISA surveillance tool before it expires in nine days and must lay out a plan for delivering assistance to Ukraine.

Johnson and Trump are planning a joint news conference on Friday that is purportedly about “election integrity” but may also shed some light on the speaker’s future.