COMPASS: The House goes MIRV-ing

April 16th, 2024

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill.

This past weekend’s Iranian attack on Israel has reignited the debate in Congress over foreign aid. Of course, nothing is as simple as passing stand-alone aid to Israel – and last time the Senate and House tried, the White House called it “a ploy,” and yesterday confirmed they “will not accept” a stand-alone Israel aid package.

Instead, it appears House Speaker Mike Johnson will engage in an interpretive dance designed to create the illusion that the House is considering aid packages to Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel as individual bills before sending them over to the Senate in one giant package.

At the time of this writing the Rules Committee has not released text to officially confirm this, but the Speaker’s comments suggest that he will use a process colloquially referred to as a “MIRV” – a military acronym for “Multiple-Impact Reentry Vehicles,” repurposed in this instance to describe legislative consideration. Under a MIRV, legislation is passed individually before being combined into one legislative vehicle (without a vote on the final package) before being sent to the Senate.

In other words, once the rule passes to structure this process, each provision is then voted on individually, passing with different coalitions of votes, and all members understand that the bills will be combined without a vote at the end. The vote on “final passage” to the extent that it exists, is a vote for or against the rule.

MIRVs have been used in the past, though not often. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used a MIRV in 2020 to combine a COVID relief package with government funding. John Boehner infamously used a MIRV to pass expedited trade authority for then-President Barack Obama in 2015, and the resulting chaos was the impetus behind the formation of the House Freedom Caucus (I wrote a little about this in my 2021 review of Boehner’s memoir.)

The Johnson iteration of the MIRV will include votes on aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, but also the House-passed TikTok legislation, economic and humanitarian loans to Ukraine, and the REPO Act, which gives the White House authority to seize frozen Russian assets (more on the REPO Act from the Heritage Foundation, which opposes the idea). There will be no provisions for border security, and border security amendments will not be allowed.

Rep. Jim Jordan has already come out opposing the idea of tying all these bills together, and other conservative members have raised similar sentiments. If enough Republicans fail to vote for the rule, it may require Speaker Johnson to rely, yet again, on the votes of Democrats.

The conference discontent has again raised the specter of another Motion to Vacate. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has filed the motion, but not yet triggered the privilege which would summon it to the floor. Based on internal conference conversations, Rep. Thomas Massie has announced he is co-sponsoring Rep. Greene’s effort. Rep. Greene has outlined some of her reasoning for filing the motion here.

If there wasn’t enough legislative drama on Capitol Hill, Congress is also careening toward a FISA reauthorization deadline on Friday. The House is coming off a feisty debate over FISA that ended on Friday with the bill passing 273 to 147

All the light and heat of that debate, however, was focused on an amendment offered by Rep. Andy Biggs to require the FBI to obtain a warrant before querying the texts, emails, and phone calls of Americans caught up in FISA’s Section 702 dragnet. The FBI really did not want this amendment to pass. And neither did the Biden administration – which was why Attorney General Merrick Garland and Biden National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were calling House members on Friday to lobby against it.

Speaker Mike Johnson, who voted for the amendment when he was a member of the House Judiciary Committee, came out in opposition to the policy, telling reporters, “When I was a member of the Judiciary I saw the abuses of the FBI, hundreds of thousands of abuses. And then I became Speaker and got the confidential briefing to understand how important it is for national security.”

The amendment was offered by Rep. Andy Biggs with the backing of Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, who explained the amendment this way: 

Mr. Chair, in 2021, 2022, the FBI did over 3 million U.S. person queries of this giant 702 database—of this giant haystack of information, 3 million queries of United States persons. Make no mistake, query is a fancy name for search. Three million Americans’ data was searched in this database of information, and guess what? The FBI wasn’t even following their own rules when they conducted those searches. That is why we need a warrant . . .The Washington Post reported last May that 278,000 times the FBI found, the Justice Department found, that they didn’t even follow their own darn rules when they searched this giant haystack, this giant database of information on Americans.

What we are saying is, let’s do something that the Constitution has had in place for a couple hundred years that has served our Nation well and protected American citizens’ liberties. Let’s make the executive branch go to a separate and equal branch of govern- ment, the judicial branch, and get a probable cause warrant to do the search.

The final vote on the amendment was 212 to 212, with a tie vote resulting in its defeat. 

FISA 702 reauthorization expires on April 19 unless the Senate passes the House bill before that time. Senator Rand Paul has already indicated he wants a full Senate debate of the Biggs amendment, among others, telling reporters that if the program expires over the weekend, “we can live under the Constitution for a day, maybe two days.” 

The Senate also has to grapple with the impeachment of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, which, after being delayed for a week, is expected to arrive in the Senate today. Senate Democrats are looking to take the unprecedented step of tabling (or, killing) the articles of impeachment without holding a trial. If you missed it, all that and more was the subject of last week’s Compass.

Hold onto your hats, people. It’s going to be a wild week.

The Latest From Around The Conservative Movement

One More Thing…

The European iteration of the National Conservatism Conference kicked off in Brussels this week – and then the mayor of Brussels sent city police to shut it down for causing a “public disturbance.” More on this wild story from The American Conservative, and multiple videos of police entering the event on my Twitter feed. The mayor’s reasoning for stopping NatCon? They’re too pro-life, among other “issues.”