House members are worried that the Republican brawl over who will be the next speaker has left them unable to conduct routine national security business, since members of the chamber’s Intelligence Committee can’t receive briefings involving classified information until the leadership fight is resolved and Congress is fully sworn in.
The situation could prevent lawmakers from keeping a careful eye on ongoing issues like the war in Ukraine and is fueling concerns that they may be left in the dark on key information in the event of an unexpected crisis.
“We can’t go to any classified briefings and review classified documents,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. told Semafor. “We can’t conduct any oversight right now of any intelligence agencies, or do anything that relates to anything that’s classified.”
Practically all normal activity in the House of Representatives has ground to a halt while Republicans fight over GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s speaker bid.
But the House Intelligence panel, whose work requires staying constantly up to date on sensitive government secrets, may be “more impacted than probably any other” committee, said former chair Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
It’s not only Democrats who are sounding the alarm. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., another member of the panel, told reporters this afternoon that security blocked him from attending a scheduled meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, that was supposed to take place in the House’s facility for reviewing sensitive documents because he currently doesn’t have a clearance.
“We have work that we can’t do right now,” Gallagher said.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., voiced similar concerns to CNN earlier in the day: “I sit on the House Intelligence Committee. We oversee all 19 intelligence agencies. We are currently offline,” he said.
A staffer familiar with the matter said that, technically, members on the Intelligence Committee cannot receive briefings until after the speaker election, but noted that if the Biden administration feels there is something that a member of Congress needs to be briefed on, they can do so.
It’s not a huge problem — yet — that lawmakers can’t receive classified briefings. They’ve only been back in Washington since Tuesday, and there’s not a massive national security threat that needs immediate attention (that we know of). The Senate is organized and functioning even as the House remains in limbo.
But the longer the House goes without a leader, the greater the chances are that a crisis could emerge while lawmakers are sidelined. McCarthy lost on a sixth vote Wednesday afternoon, and it’s unclear how or when the situation will be resolved.
“I don’t see any functional implications today,” Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. told me. “But we wouldn’t want to be in this position in a crisis and we can’t be in this position for long.”
Room for Disagreement
Some lawmakers doubt that the stalled Congress will pose much risk to the country.
“I don’t see any implication” for national security, Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, told Semafor. “This is just part of the democratic process of selecting a speaker.”
David Weigel and Kadia Goba contributed.