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House GOP leaders vow to block online privacy bill over intraparty pushback

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House GOP leaders are vowing that they won’t hold a floor vote on a controversial online privacy bill, clashing with a powerful committee head who views the legislation as a legacy moment.

During a retreat for top Republican staffers last week, multiple chiefs of staff confronted Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s top aide Brett Horton about the bill, according to three people familiar with the matter who were granted anonymity to speak about private conversations. Horton responded that the legislation would not come to the floor in its current form, according to three of those people, even if it passed out of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

And that’s not guaranteed to happen, either. Some members of the panel have expressed confusion about why McMorris Rodgers is moving forward on the bill given fierce pushback, according to six Republicans familiar with the matter.

Generally, the legislation seeks to create federal guardrails on companies collecting the data of consumers online — an issue that many lawmakers in both parties agree they need to address. But how to do so has become a thorny political issue.

GOP members are particularly concerned about the breadth of the bill, including how it would cut across almost all industries rather than approaching it on a sector-by-sector basis, according to one senior Republican aide. Others worry that small- and mid-sized businesses would be more impacted by the text than the big tech companies, which can afford to pay hordes of lawyers.

There are also potential issues for law enforcement officers, such as restrictions on their ability to access information they need to conduct their jobs. Additionally, some worry about how it will impact data collection, particularly as it pertains to artificial intelligence. And one clause that calls for a “private right of action” has raised red flags, since it gives individuals the power to sue for damages.

As that senior Republican aide put it: “There’s no real conservative wins. And the private right of action is absolutely horrible for mainstream businesses.”

There is a new version of the bill that is expected to be released later Thursday, utilizing some of the feedback the panel has received, according to two of the people familiar with the matter. And it is expected to receive a markup next week, which one of these people predicted would happen on Thursday.

But critics of the bill are skeptical that the new version will assuage all of their concerns. Some predicted that Republican support might decrease, given that McMorris Rodgers worked closely with the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) on the new version.

A spokesperson for the panel defended the bill in a statement to POLITICO, arguing that it will provide the people with more privacy protections.

“E&C members have long worked to make online privacy a right for Americans and put them in control over their personal information. It’s a choice between individual liberty or continuing the massive commercial data surveillance happening on Americans every day. We look forward to continuing to move this bill through our regular order process,” the statement reads.

McMorris Rodgers announced in January that she would be retiring from Congress, shocking many who expected her to serve another term as the panel’s top Republican. And some believe she is aggressively pushing this bill as her own personal legacy.

Some critics of the legislation say they have faced threats for pushing back, including that McMorris Rodgers would bench the legislative priorities of those on the panel who have raised concerns, according to two senior Republican aides.

A committee spokesperson denied those allegations.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.