McCarthy leaves Intel spot open months after Ratcliffe confirmation

Other Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee include Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a former attorney who served as one of Trump’s impeachment surrogates; several members of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, including Freedom Caucus Chair Andy Biggs of Arizona; and veteran Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio, who unsuccessfully sought the top GOP spot on Judiciary.

McCarthy will have more flexibility whenever he selects members to replace retiring Texas Reps. Will Hurd, a former CIA officer, and Mike Conaway, who led the panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after Nunes recused himself.

Outside of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), chair of the House Republican Conference and a vocal foreign policy hawk, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for Intel, though that was before her colleagues accused her of undermining Trump’s administration for criticizing its response to the coronavirus and foreign policy decisions during a recent closed-door meeting.

Other names that have been floated include Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) and Andy Barr (R-Ky.). Both sit on the House Financial Services Committee and could apply their fiscal knowledge to intelligence and national security matters.

The momentum around Barr’s candidacy has stalled, though, after the unexpected death of his wife in June. The Kentucky Republican, who said he is focused on raising his two daughters, returned to Capitol Hill just before the August recess.

Historically, the panel has attracted lawmakers who want to do serious intelligence work; committee members deal with the nation’s most closely-held secrets and most often meet in secure classified settings, away from the glare of the C-SPAN cameras. But the panel has transformed in the Trump era and become more of a partisan breeding ground, as evidenced when the committee’s Republicans called on Schiff to resign.

Despite the lack of a full roster, the committee’s work has continued.

Last week the panel approved its annual intelligence policy bill — though in a straight party-line vote, instead of unanimously by voice vote. It’s also working with the U.S. intelligence community to finalize its “deep dive” on China, focused on the various national security threats posed by Beijing, and reviewing the pandemic and how the clandestine community is postured to analyze global health issues.

McCarthy initially came under fire at the start of this Congress, accused of slow-rolling the committee’s work when he took weeks to name someone to an open spot on the panel while Democrats were eager to restart the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

McCarthy eventually tapped Ratcliffe for the role, but personally informed at least 70 lawmakers who sought the spot on the panel and didn’t get the seat, which delayed the announcement.

“If anyone were to read anything into this other than it’s a procedural process they would be wrong,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) told POLITICO. “It’s just going to take a little while and of course we take our Intel responsibilities seriously.”

Democrats, however, say leaving Ratcliffe’s spot empty is a sign of the GOP’s disconnect at a critical time. With less than 100 days until the election, top Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have criticized the Trump administration for withholding information on possible Russian election meddling.

“Honestly, I wish that the minority would just be a little more involved in what’s going on in the oversight of the intelligence community,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, one of four new Democrats named to the panel last year.

“We can’t oversee the intelligence community in a partisan way, it has to be bipartisan,” he added, especially when the Trump administration is “trying to hide the ball in terms of information about the intelligence community, not communicating with us in the way that they should and also preventing career public servants from doing their duty and showing up to testify about vital matters.”