Buildup To A Discharge: How Some Representatives Are Looking To Force A Vote On FISA
from the dont-follow-the-leader dept
Sources on the Hill report that, in the wake of last week’s dust-up over surveillance reform in the House of Representatives, House Republicans are preparing to circulate a discharge petition, a mechanism that can be used to circumvent House leadership and move a bill directly to the floor to force a vote. The Senate has already passed White House-supported legislation amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to expand the government’s power to eavesdrop on conversations with overseas parties without a warrant — legislation that also includes a controversial provision providing retroactive immunity against civil suits to telecoms that gave the National Security Agency access to customer data without a court order. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has refused to schedule a vote on the House version of the Senate’s bill.
Since, under House rules, that legislation is not subject to a discharge petition as currently engrossed, Reps. Vito Fossella (R-NY), Peter King (R-NY), and Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) have introduced their own version. They are currently gathering informal commitments from legislators while waiting out the 30-day time limit before a petition can be formally circulated.
Since discharge petitions are seen as a direct affront to leadership’s control of the agenda, legislators are generally extremely reticent about signing them: The last time one was used successfully was in 2002, when it forced a vote on Shays-Meehan, the House version of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law. Some members even have blanket policies against signing such petitions. And since they require a simple majority to become effective, Republicans would need to win over many of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats who have urged Pelosi to move forward with the Senate’s version of the FISA bill. And even those willing to break with Pelosi on this issue may have qualms about slapping her in the face quite so overtly.
Instead of being directly used to force a vote, then, a source in the office of a Republican representative projects that the petition will be used to bring pressure directly to bear on Democratic members, and indirectly on the Democratic leadership. The latest assault in that pressure campaign came today in the form of a 24-style scare ad put out by the House Republican Conference, warning of impending terror attacks unless Democrats act quickly to reauthorize warrantless wiretaps.