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McCarthy struggles to justify punishments for key House Democrats

The problem is not just the fact that Kevin McCarthy punished Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell. It was also his attempt at explaining why he did so.


As Speaker Kevin McCarthy prepared to kick two Democrats off the House Intelligence Committee, even using this as the basis for political fundraising, some of his own GOP members weren’t altogether pleased with the plan.

Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana, for example, issued a statement yesterday describing the effort as a “charade,” adding, “Speaker McCarthy needs to stop ‘bread and circuses’ in Congress and start governing for a change.” Other GOP members, including South Carolina’s Nancy Mace and California’s David Valadao, also expressed public skepticism about the move.

The speaker ignored them. NBC News reported overnight:

Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday blocked two Democrats from seats on the House Intelligence Committee. ... McCarthy, R-Calif., made good on his promise to block former Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell — both D-Calif. — from serving on that panel.

As we’ve discussed, such a decision ordinarily 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.

With this in mind, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote to McCarthy this week, encouraging him to honor tradition and stand practices, and resist the urge to intervene for no reason. The speaker ignored him, too.

When asked to explain his rationale, the California Republican told reporters late yesterday that Schiff and Swalwell “lied to the American public.” He added that the move was necessary in the interests of “national security.”

It’s a difficult line to take seriously. In fact, 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.”

Or put another way, it’s not unreasonable to think McCarthy was lying about Schiff and Swalwell lying.

Indeed, if we’re going to have a conversation about which congressmen “lied to the American public,” the speaker should probably be cautious about throwing stones in his glass house. McCarthy is, after all, the same lawmaker who told the public that the FBI cleared Donald Trump from Jan. 6 wrongdoing, the IRS is hiring 78,000 new agents, and the Justice Department labeled parents at school board meetings “domestic terrorists” — and in each instance, the Republican was brazenly lying.

By McCarthy's reasoning, perhaps it'd be best — in the interest of national security, of course — to keep him away from sensitive intelligence, too?

As for the actual reason the speaker targeted Swalwell and Schiff, I won’t pretend to know what the GOP leader was thinking, though there are plenty of possible explanations. Maybe McCarthy was seeking payback after two of his most radical members were stripped of their committee assignments in the last Congress. Maybe Trump told McCarthy to target two Democrats who’d embarrassed him. Maybe the speaker thought he’d look “tough” by punishing a pair of high-profile opponents.

Whatever the true reason, McCarthy argued last night that he’s “committed to returning the [House Intelligence] Committee to one of genuine honesty and credibility that regains the trust of the American people.”

In reality, the important panel was already salvaged four years ago — when Schiff took the gavel from Republican Devin Nunes.