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Johnson promises stand-alone spy powers vote in April

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Speaker Mike Johnson is planning to hold a vote next month on a stand-alone bill to reauthorize a controversial spy power, he told POLITICO in an interview Thursday.

It appears to be the first time Johnson has specified a timeline for bringing back up a floor vote on a bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He’s already had to punt on the legislation two times, given deep divisions within his own ranks, and Republicans acknowledge persistent splits over the issue haven’t faded.

Congress has until April 19 to extend or make changes to the foreign surveillance power, which targets non-citizens outside of the United States but has come under fire because of its ability to sweep in American information.

“The current plan is to run FISA as a standalone the week after Easter,” Johnson said during an interview at the GOP retreat at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. That timing would put a vote the week of April 8, when the House is slated to return from a two-week recess.

That commitment runs contrary to some fears that Johnson might attach a short-term extension of Section 702 to a government funding bill that leaders hope to clear next week. That possibility has caused significant heartburn for privacy hawks, who are hoping to make changes to the current law before reauthorizing.

During the interview, the speaker said his current plan is to stick with legislation that was negotiated by leadership and members of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Under that deal, Republicans on the two committees were expected to get amendment votes on their biggest priorities that weren’t included in the bill. But Johnson pulled the bill after Republicans on the Intelligence Committee threatened to block it from getting to the floor, citing two amendments proposed by privacy hawks. Those sticking points haven’t been resolved.

“The current deliberation is how to handle the two major amendments that are still pending,” Johnson said, referring to the two amendments.

One of those proposals would require a warrant, with some built-in exceptions, before searching the data for any information related to Americans — a higher standard that security advocates argue would neuter the authority. The second amendment would prevent data brokers from selling consumer information to law enforcement.