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Kevin McCarthy already planning retribution after midterm races

Kevin McCarthy is making plans to use future power to punish House Democrats he doesn't like. This GOP scheme will not end well.
Image: Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, center, departs the House Chamber after speaking for more than 8 hours at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is so confident that he'll be Speaker of the House next year that he's already making plans for how to wield power in 2023. As NBC News reported, one of the California Republican's top priorities is using committee assignments to retaliate against Democrats.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Monday that if Republicans win control of House in the midterm elections and put him in charge, he would remove some high-profile Democratic members from their committee roles.... McCarthy named Reps. Eric Swalwell California; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; and Adam Schiff of California as Democrats he'd remove from their committee assignments.

To remove these Democratic lawmakers from their panels would require a majority of the House, but if Republicans control the chamber, that shouldn't be much of a problem.

At least, it shouldn't be much of a procedural problem.

As GOP leaders start measuring the drapes ahead of the midterm elections, it's worth taking stock of how we arrived at this point.

Exactly three years ago this week, following a lengthy list of racist incidents, House Republicans agreed to strip then-Rep. Steve King of his committee assignments. McCarthy said at the time that his conference simply could not "tolerate" the Iowan's racism any longer.

A standard was set: King had just wondered aloud about why "white supremacist" had become "offensive," and the GOP rightfully said the congressman had crossed a line.

That same year, two House Republicans faced felony corruption charges, at which point House Republican leaders stripped them of their committee assignments. It was evidence of another standard: Members indicted by the Justice Department won't serve on congressional panels.

Last year, meanwhile, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene faced related punishment. As we've discussed, the Georgia Republican was already well known for supporting the deranged QAnon conspiracy theory, and that alone should've been a disqualifier in a mature political party in a healthy democracy, but just a month into her congressional career, an avalanche of new revelations come to the fore: In late January, the public learned of Greene's record of dismissing 9/11 and school massacres as hoaxes. And harassing at least one survivor of a school shooting. And targeting religious minorities. And peddling bizarre claims about fire-causing space lasers.

Perhaps most importantly, in 2018 and 2019, the Georgia Republican expressed support for violence against Democratic elected officials. This included an instance in which she liked a social-media comment about removing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from office by way of "a bullet to the head."

By this point, House Republicans had already assigned Greene to the Budget and Education committees. In the aftermath of the revelations, McCarthy reportedly proposed removing the extremist lawmaker from one of the panels. For Democrats, this wasn't nearly good enough: They brought a measure to the floor stripping Greene of all of her committee assignments, and it passed — with 11 GOP votes.

Ten months later, House Democrats stripped Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of his committee assignments for also crossing a line with violent speech: The Arizonan released an animated video that depicted him killing one of his Democratic colleagues and attacking President Joe Biden. This resolution also passed — this time, with two Republican votes.

Just as McCarthy had set a standard with Steve King, Democrats had created a similar standard with Taylor Greene and Gosar: Members who endorse the rhetoric of political violence will lose their committee assignments.

According to the would-be House Speaker, his retaliatory plans are part of a tit-for-tat dynamic: Democrats removed some Republicans from their committees, so the GOP feels justified in removing some Democrats from their committees.

But the details matter: If Swalwell, Omar, and Schiff had talked up political violence, then the parallels would exist and McCarthy's position would be justifiable.

But what the House Republican leader is recommending is an entirely new standard: If one party doesn't like another party's members, the majority can punish them and start unilaterally reshuffling committee assignments.

McCarthy's game will not end well.