House lawmakers discuss how to address intelligence briefings on Israel without speaker

House lawmakers discuss how to address intelligence briefings on Israel without speaker


House lawmakers are scrambling to determine whether acting Speaker Patrick McHenry can participate in a so-called Gang of Eight intelligence briefing on the unfolding crisis in Israel, a source familiar with the active discussions told CNN.

The source said the understanding is that it is ultimately up to the White House whether McHenry – who has the needed clearance – can be part of the leadership briefing, but emphasized how untested the situation is. The Gang of Eight includes the top leaders and heads of the intelligence committees in both parties and both chambers.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

The House Intelligence Committee is also in discussions about scheduling a classified briefing next week, the source added, which can occur even given the current posture of the House.

But the emergency situation in Israel puts a spotlight on the state of paralysis – and uncharted legal territory – that the House is in without an elected speaker.

The US could announce new assistance to Israel as soon as Sunday, a US official said, but without a sitting House speaker, administration officials are unclear about what can be accomplished.

“Without a speaker of the House, that is a unique situation we’re gonna have to work through,” the official said.

McHenry has extremely limited powers as the temporary speaker of the House.

Committees can still continue to operate, but McHenry cannot bring bills or even nonbinding resolutions to the floor. He is mostly responsible for overseeing the election of a new speaker, which means recessing, adjourning or recognizing nominations on the floor.

The chaos around what the House can and cannot do has sparked outcry from some GOP members, who are calling on their party to speed up the timeline for electing a new speaker, though it’s unclear if it will.

“In light of today’s attacks, we should be called back to DC & vote on a Speaker ASAP,” GOP Rep. Brandon Williams said in a post on X, the platform previously known as Twitter. “We’ve all had a chance to discern between the two candidates. The nation & the world needs America’s Congress to be functioning. Every hour brings more risk. I met with a Taiwan representative yesterday… they are anxious about our weakness. It’s time to step up folks & get back to leading.”

GOP Rep. Mike Lawler called it “an unmitigated sh*t show.”

“This is why you don’t remove a Speaker mid-term without cause,” he wrote on social media.

The House GOP is scheduled to hold a candidate forum on Tuesday and its internal election on Wednesday, but it’s unclear when the floor vote will happen.

If the speaker’s race drags on, House Republicans could try to vote to give McHenry more temporary powers.

Democrats have put out guidance arguing that the authority of the acting speaker pro tempore is “strictly ministerial and the position’s sole role is to guide the House toward the election of a new Speaker or Speaker pro tempore,” according to a copy of the guidance obtained by CNN.

There is one rule pertaining to the acting speaker’s role that was developed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack that could open the door to McHenry trying to push the limits of his position, given how vaguely it was written.

“Pending such election the Member acting as Speaker pro tempore may exercise such authorities of the Office of the Speaker as may be necessary and appropriate to that end,” a rule of the House reads.

Some Republicans are arguing that this rule gives room for McHenry to take on a more administrative role but doubt that it gives him the ability to do anything legislatively.

“Many seem to believe it isn’t likely McHenry has the power to refer legislation to committee or bring bills to the floor. It’s easier to make an argument that McHenry is able to exercise some inherent administrative (rather than legislative) duties of the job,” one GOP lawmaker told CNN.

In the House’s current posture, members can still receive classified briefings, according to multiple sources, and the House Intelligence Committee members still have their security clearances.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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