Lawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects

Lawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects
© Greg Nash

Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees failed to pass an annual intelligence authorization bill before the new fiscal year after the objections of a key House Democrat held up passage of the compromise bill.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, would not agree to support the two-year Intelligence Authorization Act over concerns about a provision in the classified portion of the report, sources tell The Hill.

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The other leaders — Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Hillicon Valley: Google extending remote work policy through July 2021 | Intel community returns final Russia report to Senate committee after declassification | Study finds election officials vulnerable to cyberattacks Intel community returns final Russia report volume to Senate after declassification review MORE (R-N.C.), Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Intel panel approves final Russia report, moves toward public release Former Virginia House speaker Kirk Cox mulling run for governor Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors MORE (D-Va.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHouse Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections Nunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden White House, Congress talk next coronavirus relief bill as COVID-19 continues to surge MORE (R-Calif.) — were all on board with the legislation.

Schiff's objection means the intelligence panels won’t be able to articulate their priorities to the intelligence community during the fiscal 2018 year, losing important oversight on national security matters like cyberattacks and Russian aggression. 

Out of thousands of pages of legislative text, Schiff took issue with a paragraph in the classified annex of the report. According to one congressional source, this section is related to an oversight matter. Further details about the provision are not known.

While the committees can pass the 2019 Intelligence Authorization Act later on, the money for fiscal 2018 will be spent without the oversight of the intelligence committees.

Republicans accused Schiff of torching their chances to pass the compromise bill.

“We got jammed up. Schiff put the torpedo in it. We don’t have the vehicle to get it done. It is all Adam Schiff,” Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLive coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing Laughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE (R-Texas), a House Intelligence Committee member, told The Hill. “It is a big deal.

“It means Congress does not have the kind of oversight authority in place to oversee the 17 [intelligence] agencies because we didn’t set any policy. They have got more of a freer hand and it makes our job more difficult to not have that in place,” Conaway added.

Conaway said the other intelligence leaders “worked to get [Schiff] to a 'yes.' And he’s a 'no.'”

While Schiff split from the other intelligence leaders, the California lawmaker had the support of other Democrats on the House committee.

“The Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee back Schiff strongly,” a Democratic congressional source told The Hill.

Schiff also told The Hill that there are “members of both the House and Senate” who share his stance and “who are in leadership positions.” He declined to identify those lawmakers.

The chances of the bill passing by Friday plummeted late last week after unsuccessful negotiations prevented the committees from attaching the Intelligence Authorization Act to the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Act (FAA) this week.

Conaway indicated that the FAA was the best option for getting the intelligence bill passed.

When asked about the fate of the bill on Tuesday, Schiff said “we are still in negotiations.”

But other Republicans said the window to pass the bill closed when they missed using the FAA as their vehicle. They said Schiff knew this was their best chance of passing the bill and still withheld his support.

“We aren’t going to do it between now and Friday,” Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartAtlanta Wendy's 911 call the night of Rayshard Brooks's death released Tyler Perry offers to pay for funeral of Rayshard Brooks Current, former NHL players form diversity coalition to fight intolerance in hockey MORE (R-Utah), a House Intelligence member, told The Hill on Wednesday.

Schiff, who says he wants to get the bill passed, noted “the administration had no objection to my position in their statement of administrative position. So if others are serious about having an intel authorization act, then there is a clear pathway forward.”

A congressional source, however, said Schiff’s claims were “nothing but spin.”

“The intelligence community is opposed to it and he knows it,” the source added.

Burr told The Hill over the weekend that Schiff’s holdout delayed important legislation that pertains to Russian aggression and election security.

“Unfortunately, some members continue to object to the bill, delaying important legislative provisions to strengthen our response to Russian aggression, protect our election security, and implement much-needed security clearance reforms, among other critical items,” Burr told The Hill in a statement at the time.

One congressional source also blasted Schiff’s objections as self-defeating, stating that his concerns will persist if the bill isn’t passed.

Warner’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but congressional sources said he was frustrated by the unsuccessful back-and-forth negotiations he had with Schiff over the disputed provision.

Warner represents a state that houses many intelligence agencies and officials.