Two weeks after the 2022 midterm elections, as then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy prepared to become speaker, the Republican leader told Fox News about one of his early priorities for the 118th Congress: He was eager to remove Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the House Intelligence Committee.
Ordinarily, such a decision wouldn’t be his to make. As speaker, McCarthy has the authority to intervene on select panels' membership, but under modern congressional norms, Democratic leaders are responsible for choosing Democratic members, just as GOP leaders are responsible for choosing Republican members.
McCarthy nevertheless repeatedly said he’d take the unusual step of vetoing his fellow Californians — even using a degree of McCarthyism, claiming to have secret incriminating evidence he can’t share.
In theory, Democratic leaders could see where this was headed, take the new speaker’s threats at face value, and reassign Swalwell and Schiff to other committees. In practice, however, Democrats will force McCarthy to do his own dirty work. NBC News reported:
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries tapped Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell to continue serving on the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, teeing up a long-anticipated fight with Speaker Kevin McCarthy who has vowed to block the pair from keeping their seats on the powerful panel. The move means that the relationship between Jeffries, a New Yorker who is the new minority leader, and McCarthy of California, the new GOP speaker, is getting off to a rocky start.
“It is my understanding that you intend to break with the longstanding House tradition of deference to the minority party Intelligence Committee recommendations and deny seats to Ranking Member Schiff and Representative Swalwell,” Jeffries wrote in a letter to McCarthy, officially nominating the two experienced Democratic lawmakers.
Jeffries added, “The denial of seats to duly elected Members of the House Democratic Caucus runs counter to the serious and sober mission of the Intelligence Committee.”
The minority leader went on to note, “At the same time that Republicans have threatened to deny seats on the Intelligence Committee to clearly qualified Democratic members, serial fraudster George Santos has been placed on two standing committees of the House and welcomed into your conference. The apparent double standard risks undermining the spirit of bipartisan cooperation that is so desperately needed in Congress.”
The same letter acknowledged that House Democrats stripped right-wing Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar of their committee assignments in the last Congress, but this “does not serve as precedent or justification for the removal of Representatives Schiff and Swalwell, given that they have never exhibited violent thoughts or behavior.”
Jeffries concluded, “I urge you to honor past practice of the House of Representatives and our mutual interest in working together for the good of the American people by accepting my recommendation of Adam Schiff to serve as Ranking Member and Eric Swalwell to continue his service as a Member of the Intelligence Committee.”
The appeal will almost certainly fail, and it’s widely expected that McCarthy will follow through on his vow. Indeed, as recently as last week, the Republican speaker’s political operation used this as the basis for a fundraising appeal, making it difficult to imagine him reversing course now.
McCarthy will, of course, insist that this has nothing to do with petty partisan payback. He’ll add that Schiff and Swalwell engaged in wrongdoing that necessitates such a move.
And he’ll be wrong. The Washington Post recently published a detailed report scrutinizing the speaker’s case against the Democratic congressmen. It concluded that McCarthy’s claims are based on “specious and vague” reasoning, and attacks “based on figments of imagination.”
This won't stop McCarthy from doing the wrong thing, but it should.