Top House Democrats have shown a willingness to work with the Freedom Caucus to block progressive reforms.

by Daniel Boguslaw, The Intercept

In 2020, Democrats were closer than they ever had been to reforming U.S. intelligence agencies’ vast surveillance powers since the most damaging parts of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, or FISA, were signed into law almost two decades prior. By that point, Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations, showing that both the Bush and Obama administrations were sweeping up American phone records in bulk, had been festering in the public consciousness for years. The leaks — combined with right-wing outrage at how the FISA court had treated the Trump campaign — created an opening for civil liberties champions and their allies in Congress to start reining in rogue collection methods.

But on the cusp of their most promising effort to date, reformers were stymied by the unlikely alliance of then-Freedom Caucus Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and then-House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif. Schiff, desperate to prevent reforms which would alienate him from both House leadership and the intelligence community, worked to water down progressive demands, as was reported at the time. In exchange for Freedom Caucus votes, Jordan received concessions to increase the attorney general’s oversight of FISA and toothless language increasing penalties for deceiving the FISA court. Having successfully neutered progressives’ hopes, and secured Jordan’s vote to force the weakened bill through committee with an up-or-down vote, the bill was sent to the Senate, where a brief authorization extension was approved but ultimately killed when it came back to the House, dooming reform.

Senator Adam Schiff speaking at the Democratic Party Endorsing Convention

Now, as the deadline for another FISA reauthorization looms at the end of this year, both lawmakers are in influential positions to again crush reform. Despite being stripped of his seat on the Intelligence Committee by new GOP majority in the House, Schiff has endeared himself with Democratic Party leadership chairing Trump’s impeachment hearings. Jordan, christened with new powers wrung from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a bloody leadership election, now controls the House Judiciary Committee.

“One major battle coming up this year is warrantless wiretapping authorization,” David Segal, co-founder of the progressive advocacy organization Demand Progress, told The Intercept. “We expect the same factors from 2020 will be in play and will create a serious opportunity to reform these opaque government surveillance authorities.”

Read More