Government surveillance bill withdrawn in U.S. House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Thursday dropped consideration of legislation that would have extended U.S. surveillance tools, after President Donald Trump threatened a veto and his fellow Republicans withdrew their support.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers wearing face masks guard the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

“The two-thirds of the Republican Party that voted for this bill in March have indicated they are going to vote against it now,” Representative Steny Hoyer said in a statement on Thursday, after a vote on the measure was unexpectedly postponed late on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Democrats saying she intended to hold negotiations with the Senate on a possible compromise bill that could pass and go to Trump.

The House approved that plan later on Thursday.

The Justice Department said it opposed the bill - originally written by Attorney General William Barr and members of Congress - because it had been changed in ways that would make it more difficult “to identify and track terrorists and spies.”

The House passed the bill in March, but it was amended by the Senate, forcing it to return to the House before it could be sent to Trump.

Trump recently turned against the legislation, resurrecting assertions that Democratic ex-President Barack Obama had improperly conducted surveillance on his 2016 campaign.

The parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would have been renewed cover approval of some warrants, allow surveillance without establishing that a subject is acting on behalf of an extremist group, and allow continued eavesdropping on a subject who changed cellular provider.

They expired in March.

U.S. intelligence calls the measures essential for fighting extremism and tracking spies. But they are opposed by privacy hawks, both progressive Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans, who say they do too little to protect civil liberties.

Trump thanked Republicans on Twitter for their “incredibly important blockage” of the legislation.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Paul Simao, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio