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GOP leaders deliver private warning to a powerful chair on her privacy bill

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House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers got a clear warning Tuesday from the chamber’s top two GOP leaders: If you don’t fix your data privacy bill, it’s on track to die in your committee.

McMorris Rodgers followed by announcing that she would advance the bill anyway.

The Washington State Republican’s decision to buck the advice of Speaker Mike Johnson and Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) threatens to set up an unusual clash between party leaders and a committee chair over a bill that McMorris Rodgers has deemed a high priority before her retirement at the end of this term.

Two Republicans with knowledge of the matter, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said leadership conveyed to McMorris Rodgers during an in-person meeting on Tuesday that they have concerns about her privacy measure — issues that are fixable, but risk tanking the bill if they go unaddressed.

Both Republicans said that McMorris Rodgers was warned members of her own committee are opposed to her bill, and that while some are prepared to vote for it, they’re reluctant to.

Among the House GOP concerns with McMorris Rodgers’ bill: its call for a “private right of action” giving individuals the power to sue tech companies for damages. Other Republicans have private qualms about the breadth of the bill, including its impact on data collection, particularly as it pertains to artificial intelligence.

That’s on top of other questions about the bill’s effect on law enforcement and public safety.

McMorris Rodgers replied to GOP leaders on Tuesday by making clear she would be moving ahead, touting the bill’s importance — particularly her insistence on stronger online privacy protections for children. She also argued that the party has worked on this legislation for too long, the two Republicans familiar with the matter said.

A third Republican familiar with the matter characterized the meeting as a “good discussion where everyone agreed about the importance of privacy legislation,” adding that the only commitment made was to continue to work on the bill. In that spirit, this Republican added, a committee markup is simply the next step.

However, the other two Republicans said McMorris Rodgers’ response was perceived as a rebuff of her own leaders’ warning.

Critics of the bill are predicting that McMorris Rodgers hopes to pressure her committee members to vote unanimously for the bill, even as some GOP lawmakers privately urge leadership to protect them from having to take any vote.

While data privacy protection is broadly popular with members of both parties — who agree the government should establish federal guidelines to protect consumers as companies continue to collect data online — McMorris Rodgers’ struggle to get the bill to the floor is a clear sign that effectively legislating on the issue won’t be easy.

Even before she rolled out a new version of the bill late last week, a top GOP leadership aide had worked to assure other top Republican staffers that the bill would not make it to the floor in its current form. Yet McMorris Rodgers’ revised version of the legislation did little to alleviate the logjam.