House GOP leaders moved late Sunday to sidestep a lengthy debate over the intelligence community’s budget, a decision that prompted howling from Democrats that the GOP was attempting to limit discussion about national security threats — and ongoing investigations into election interference by Russia.
In a scheduling note to members, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy revealed that a measure to fund U.S. intelligence agencies would be placed on the "suspension calendar," a list of bills marked for expedited passage. Those bills can’t be amended, and are subject to sharply limited debate.
"The Republican move to place this intelligence bill on Monday’s suspension calendar would deprive Democrats of the ability to have a full and open debate on critical intelligence issues at this sensitive time in our nation’s history," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues shortly after the schedule was announced.
"This is unacceptable when critical intelligence decisions are being made that impact America’s national security, and while the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are leading investigations into Russia’s continued efforts to undermine our democracy," she wrote.
Pelosi is urging Democrats to vote against the measure to protest Republicans’ procedural gambit, a move that could sink a bill that might otherwise have broad bipartisan support. Bills on the suspension calendar require two-thirds support to pass, which could give Democrats enough leverage to halt the spending measure.
Pelosi said that aside from the effort to restrict debate, the funding bill itself is "not problematic."
"This bill which authorizes tens of billions of dollars for the U.S. Intelligence Community should be considered" under standard House procedures, she said.
Fights over the suspension calendar are unusual in the House. The list is typically reserved for bills that have broad bipartisan support and are narrow in scope. Primarily, it’s a time-saving tool for the House to circumvent rules that require lengthy debate and the opportunity for amendments, which is often unnecessary for uncontroversial measures.
The intelligence community’s budget, though, is coming up for consideration at a time of deepening angst over the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. President Donald Trump has ramped up his attacks against investigators, who he accuses of orchestrating a "witch hunt" into whether campaign associates and allies aided the Russian effort. Trump has also disparaged intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered with the express goal of helping Trump win the election.