House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on a major defense and national security policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, on Wednesday. It’s likely to be the only legislative accomplishment they achieve before leaving for the the end of the year, if it does indeed pass. The bill authorizes nearly $900 billion in defense and national security, though it doesn’t include funding—it just directs where the eventual funding bill will be spent. What the new House-Senate conference report doesn’t do is overturn the Pentagon’s abortion policy or strip health care from transgender troops.
That’s enough to have members of the hard-right House, which loaded their version of the bill up with all those toxic provisions, howling and vowing to vote against the bill. The bigger problem in the House, though, is Speaker Mike Johnson’s bungling of another provision in the NDAA. The conference committee decided to add a short-term extension of the nation’s warrantless surveillance powers in the bill, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, after several misfires on the issue from Johnson.
In the course of the last week or so, Johnson has taken three different positions on getting that done. On Nov. 29, he said he wanted to include an extension of it until Feb. 2. Then on Tuesday of this week, he told the GOP conference that he would put two competing reauthorization bills—one from House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan and another from House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner—on the floor in a head-to-head matchup. Whichever bill got the most votes would be sent to the Senate. Punchbowl News reported that he had instructed the members of the defense authorization conference to keep the FISA extension out of the bill, and “got cheers from conservatives for this statement.” Then on Wednesday, he made a complete about-face, agreeing to include an extension of the surveillance powers until April.
That same day, Jordan’s committee passed his bipartisan overhaul of FISA in committee by a 35-2 margin. Jordan had every expectation of his bill passing and wanted it to go to the floor next week, as he thought Johnson had promised. That’s precisely the kind of indecision and flip-flopping that already has Johnson in trouble with his fractious caucus, and since they are all unappeasable, it’s not going to get any better for him.