FISA Bill: GOP Needs to Win Back Trust to Win in November

Posted on Sunday, April 14, 2024
by David P. Deavel


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“We have two parties, and only two,” the legendary journalist and conservative political activist M. Stanton Evans liked to say: “One is the evil party, and the other is the stupid party. I’m very proud to be a member of the stupid party. Occasionally the two parties get together to do something that’s both evil and stupid. That’s called bipartisanship.” I couldn’t help but think of that line on Friday when the House passed the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on Friday. 149 Republicans and 126 Democrats voted in favor of this act that does not include a requirement for warrants when authorities want to search American citizens’ data.

This is indeed both evil and stupid. It was FISA lawlessness that allowed the DOJ to spy on the Trump campaign via Carter Page. And, so that readers understand that this kind of abuse is not reserved merely for Donald Trump but for all of us, we might consider that it was less than one year ago that it was revealed that the FBI had misused FISA searches nearly 278 thousand times over 2020 and 2021. This is no mere “right-wing talking point.” You could have read about it in left/regime sources such as Reuters and the New York Times.

That improper searches targeted not only people at January 6 but also those at George Floyd protests is small comfort, as is the fact that the FBI started to pull back on its FISA requests starting in 2022. After all, we were assured by then-Attorney General William Barr in 2020 that changes to the FISA program would limit the problems already being observed. That clearly didn’t happen.

It’s not that there wasn’t a chance to stop this bill from passing as is. Arizona GOP Representative Andy Biggs proposed an amendment to the bill requiring warrants for searches of U. S. citizens. It tied 212-212—and was defeated because House Speaker Mike Johnson cast the deciding vote against it. As Biggs said on X (Twitter), “86 Republicans voted with Joe Biden and the Uniparty to allow the FBI to continue spying on Americans without a warrant. The Swamp is deep.”

Of course, Johnson doesn’t think of it that way. Earlier in the week he told reporters that when he was a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he too saw the massive violations. But, he said last week, he: “got the confidential briefing on sort of the other perspective on that to understand the necessity of section 702 of FISA and how important it is for national security. And it gave me a different perspective.” Unfortunately, the perspective it gave him was the one shared by the Biden Administration, the FBI, and the Intelligence Committee. In short, it was the perspective of those who most need to see that, because bad guys exist, our Fourth Amendment guarantees against “unreasonable search and seizure” and warrants only “upon probable cause” do not cease to exist.

The good news is that the version of Section 702 that passed included a two-year sunset on this version of the act, rather than a five-year one, and a promise to give a stand-alone vote on Ohio Representative Warren Davidson’s bipartisan The Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale bill, which puts a great many barriers in the way of the government obtaining private citizens’ data.

The better news is this: there is still a chance to change this FISA reauthorization. After passage on Friday, a motion was made to reconsider the vote on the FISA reauthorization. Due to parliamentary maneuvers in response, the vote to reconsider will not take place until Monday. Texas GOP Representative Chip Roy, who voted against the FISA bill, observed that House members who supported the reauthorization without the extra safeguards now ought to “go home and tell constituents over the next 72 hours about why they are siding with the intelligence agencies in the deep state and the swamp over the rights and liberties of the American people.” And Utah Senator Mike Lee tweeted on Saturday, “If you don’t like the FISA bill as passed by the House yesterday, tell your representative! The House will be voting on a motion to reconsider on Monday. This isn’t over. #FISA702 #GetAWarrant.”

Indeed, you should contact your representative. The idea that we are going to keep going with warrantless FISA searches of our citizens after the revelations of the last decade is a massive blunder. Especially since 9/11, over twenty years ago, Americans have been told over and over that their civil liberties must be put on a backburner, usually with some sort of a warning such as that, if they don’t, “the terrorists will win.” While there is no doubt that our Constitution is not, as Justice Robert Jackson famously said, “a suicide pact,” and written laws have exceptions to them, the continuing erosion of our society and especially our liberties named in the Bill of Rights because of an ostensible threat to our “safety” has begun to be obnoxious.

The tendencies of the modern left and too much of the “national security right” have been to turn our entire society into the equivalent of a more relaxed military garrison or perhaps low-security prison. We’ve been showing our papers, subjecting ourselves to body scanners and pat-downs at the airport, making sure we throw out containers with more than a certain number of ounces of liquids, and hand over the pocket knives we forgot in our pockets for over two decades now. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s been a kind of test for what the American people will put up with.

Over the last few years, we learned what people with power might do to an easygoing people. During the response to Covid, we discovered that there is a healthy portion of that Swamp that had no problems with turning our society into a literal police state where unauthorized surfing, boating, or playing in yards during “shelter-in-place” orders merited police intervention. We learned that many would use bureaucratic power and even the law to remove people from jobs because they refused to take a pharmaceutical product that was still largely experimental. And we learned that social media companies were effectively censoring Americans on behalf of, and reporting on them to, parts of our own federal government.

It’s been ugly. And in blue states, such tyranny continues. Rather than enforce the laws of the land in the face of a crime wave, New York would rather place National Guard troops inside the subway system.   

The Grand Old Party has a grand old opportunity now to be the party that doesn’t just do stunts like reading the Constitution in public but make laws that actually reflect what that supreme law of the land says. We can be the party that brings law and order; by doing so, we can be the party of true liberty.

Too often, Republicans have ended up being the echo and not the choice; a junior party in the uniparty and not a challenger to it; a slightly cleaned up puddle that still smells of the swamp. These failures have bred distrust—and trust is the ultimate currency of politics.

Donald Trump urged Republicans to “kill” the FISA bill as it stands this week. He was surely right. If Republicans want to win in November, they need to win back the trust of the American people. They need to show Americans that they aren’t stupid and won’t deal with evil. They should get their act together this weekend and figure out how to protect Americans from our enemies while also protecting them from searches without warrants. Definitely call or write your representative today.  

 David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X (Twitter) @davidpdeavel.

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