Warrantless Surveillance: What “Bipartisanship” in Congress Means

Jonathan Cohn
3 min readApr 15, 2024

On Friday, the US House of Representatives voted 273 to 147 to reauthorize the broad, unchecked surveillance powers of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), with minimal reforms.

126 Republicans and 147 Democrats voted for it, and 88 Republicans and 59 Democrats voted against it.

Here are the 59 Democrats who voted no:

Although there is a core of pro-surveillance and anti-surveillance legislators in both parties, it is striking how much the composition of the vote can change depending on which party holds the presidency. The last extension, in 2018, passed 256 to 164, with 191 Republicans and 65 Democrats in favor and 119 Democrats and 45 Republicans against.

Although the reauthorization was limited to 2 years in order to gain more votes, the House voted down important reforms in the floor debate on Friday.

Most notable among those was a bipartisan amendment to close the backdoor search loophole and require federal agencies to obtain a warrant before searching for US persons’ communications in databases of information.

The amendment failed 212 to 212, a rare tied vote. 128 Republicans and 84 Democrats voted in favor of it, and 126 Democrats and 86 Republicans voted against it. It is damning to see the Republican caucus break more heavily in favor of ending warrantless surveillance. But the Biden administration was lobbying Congress heavily.

Here are the 84 Democrats who voted in favor of it:

As Demand Progress points out, a number of Democrats flipped on this issue, having voted for a very similar amendment back in 2018. 37 Democrats, in particular:

The House took floor votes to pass three amendments to further expand surveillance powers, each with bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition:

  • An amendment from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (TX-02) to expand the already broad definition of “foreign intelligence” to include “any controlled substance designated by the Controlled Substances Act” or precursor to one— a definition so broad as to include prescription medications — Passed 268 to 152
  • An amendment from Rep. Michael Waltz (FL-06) to permit warrantless searches of Section 702 data for all people seeking permission to travel to the United States, whether on student or work visas or as tourists or business travelers — regardless of any grounds for suspicion — Passed 227 to 193
  • An amendment from Rep. Mike Turner (OH-10) to expand the universe of companies that must assist the government in conducting surveillance — Passed 236 to 186

The House, however, did pass a modest accountability measure from Chip Roy (TX-21) to require the FBI to report to Congress on a quarterly basis the number of US person queries conducted. It passed 269 to 153, with bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition.

The spreadsheet here tracks all of the floor votes discussed.



Jonathan Cohn

Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.