The disarray in the House is leaving lawmakers furious over their inability to stay informed on national security issues, preventing them from entering classified briefings or meeting with top officials.
Lawmakers say they can’t even get into a special room known as a sensitive compartmentalized information facility, or SCIF, where they discuss top-secret information with national security officials.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) said security prevented him from entering SCIF when he arrived for a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on “Indo-Pacific matters.”
“I am informed by House security that, technically, I do not have authorization. I am a member of the Intel Committee. I am on the Armed Services Committee and cannot meet at SCIF to conduct essential business. My point is that we have work to do that we can’t do right now,” he said at a news conference along with other Republicans who pleaded for a quick fix to Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) gavel hunt.
McCarthy supporters are largely sounding the alarm on the issue of national security as they try to pressure opponents to settle the Speaker’s fight. McCarthy lost an eighth consecutive vote to become Speaker on Thursday afternoon.
The incoming chairmen of the House intelligence, armed services and foreign affairs committee have complained that the delay is hampering their oversight of the Biden administration, a top priority for the Republican majority.
“There is no oversight from the White House, the State Department, the Defense Department or the intelligence community. We cannot allow personal politics to jeopardize the security of the United States,” Reps. Michael Turner (Ohio), Mike Rogers (Ala.) and Michael McCaul (Texas) said in a statement.
Lawmakers do not directly have security clearances, but are considered trusted to receive such information simply because of their position.
Other briefings are restricted by committee membership, and committees cannot be formally composed until a Speaker is elected.
“No member has clearances. Our choice is supposed to be our research process. But the rules only allow Intel Committee members to see certain materials, the vast majority of classified materials, and until we’re constituted, members can’t really get those kinds of briefings or access,” said Representative Adam Schiff. (D -Calif.), who led the intelligence committee during the previous session.
Deal talks among Republicans to make McCarthy Speaker have so far been unsuccessful.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who is among those opposed to McCarthy, suggested in comments Thursday that it could take a lot more work to reach an agreement. One of the concessions that has been discussed is a proposal that would allow a single member of Congress to force a vote to remove a president.
“There is a trust issue with the gentleman who wants to be president,” Perry said. “It’s hard to restore trust in just a month or two and it’s really hard to betray confidences in a meeting where details are later leaked to the press.”
The group has also called for members of the conservative Freedom Caucus to be appointed as subcommittee chairs, subverting the normal process. The idea has been rejected by Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who called it “crazy.”
“As if Kevin McCarthy or any speaker magically tells members, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m going to give your seat to someone else who is an aggravation to the conference,’” Rogers told The Hill. “It just shows how crazy they are..”
The total freeze has also given rise to an interesting dynamic.
A GOP staffer told The Hill that staff who receive security clearances due to the nature of their work can still access SCIF and receive reports, even when lawmakers can’t.
“Nobody on our committee can go down and get information about things,” Schiff said.
“The committee will have to be reconstituted. And most of the materials are only accessible to committee members and until it is reconstituted there are no committee members,” he told The Hill. “So Intel is more impacted than probably any other committee.”
The Intelligence Committee’s formation is more complicated than some other House panels, and members typically seek waivers to circumvent limitations on how many terms a member can sit on the panel, a nod to the importance of institutional knowledge in intelligence. Constant congressional agitation.
“Every delay here has an aggravating impact. Because the first thing that happens there has to be a Spokesperson. Then committees are formed, but Intel is a select committee. So the leader of the minority side and the Speaker have to agree on the proportions. They then have to work on other waivers that need to take place. who is the rank[ing member] or who is the president, all these things take time,” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who will need a waiver to continue serving on the panel.
Some view the closure of the Chamber over the Speaker’s fight as embarrassing and worry that it could have negative consequences in the real world.
McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Hill on Thursday that he was worried about missing classified hearings on issues like Syria and the war in Ukraine.
“Classified reports about things like Iran bombing our base in Syria,” he said. “You know, what is happening in China and Taiwan? What is happening in Ukraine? We don’t have time to receive our classified briefings.
Quigley said it doesn’t take more than a few days for lawmakers to fall behind on world affairs.
“The world doesn’t stop because a caucus can’t agree. And a couple of days is one thing. Beyond that, it gets tricky and eventually dangerous. You are flying blind. You don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
Gallagher said the standoff risks damaging the nation’s global standing.
“We have seen what happens in the last two years. When deterrence fails, when weakness invites aggression. It is up to this Congress to restore deterrence to restore peace through force, but we cannot do that vital job until we outvote the speakers, fill our committees and get to work,” he said.
In some corners, anger is only growing against the 20 lawmakers who oppose McCarthy’s leadership.
“We have business, serious business, to do. This is not the place to be flippant,” Rogers said.
“And we have some people who are being very flippant right now.”