Updated 3:15 p.m. | House Republicans spent their Thursday morning planning conference discussing a surveillance measure that would be on the floor later the same day instead of a plan to fund the government beyond Jan. 19.
The week-end GOP conference meeting is typically reserved for legislative issues the House will tackle in weeks ahead. Conferences held the morning after fly-in day are when House Republicans normally discuss measures on the floor that week.
The silence on a spending strategy likely reflects ongoing talks at the leadership level about raising the sequestration caps on defense and nondefense spending and an immigration deal that Democrats insist is a prerequisite for their support of a broader budget deal.
“That was not even brought up today,” Rep. Peter T. King said when asked what the plan was for funding the government.
The New York Republican said 99 percent of the conference meeting was about reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the measure the House would vote on Thursday. The other 1 percent of the conversation was leadership briefly expressing their view that the immigration negotiations surrounding a legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are going well, he said.
One decision that’s apparently been made is to move a six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program next week. It was not immediately clear whether that would move separately or be attached to the continuing resolution.
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“At this point it would just be CHIP,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden said when asked whether the measure would also fund community health centers. “I would like to do it all if we can, but we believe that CHIP can move forward.”
The Oregon Republican said the six-year CHIP reauthorization is not expected to cost any money.
The discussion about the FISA reauthorization just hours before the vote was a little puzzling given that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
A bipartisan amendment to require the FBI to obtain a warrant before searching for any data on Americas swept up in foreign intelligence surveillance was expected to fail, and it did, 183-233. The amendment was backed by Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California.
The underlying reauthorization passed easily, 256-164.
North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, a member of the GOP whip team, said the conference had a “healthy discussion” about the Amash amendment and unrelated concerns about the dossier that outlined possible ties between President Donald Trump and Russia.
Trump’s Thursday morning tweets on FISA did come up during the GOP conference meeting, Rep. Morgan Griffith said. The tweets caused a decent amount of confusion about where the president stood on the legislation, as well as the Amash amendment.
“Initially it sounded like he didn’t want people to vote for it. Then he said he did want people to vote for it,” Griffith said. “If, I think, he truly understood it, he’d be for the Amash amendment.”
The Virginia Republican said he expects administration officials have fed Trump lines about the need to use the surveillance of Americans in criminal matters and the president probably doesn’t understand the breadth of the existing authority.
“They can search everything,” Griffith said. “They can find out every contact you’ve had with a foreign person. If they have any suspicion, they can go look at it. They can’t use it criminally, but they could use it politically. There’s no prohibition in the bill from using it politically, they just can’t use it criminally.”