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Why McCarthy’s plan to retaliate against Dems is tough to defend

Kevin McCarthy thinks he's justified in stripping three Democrats of their committee assignments. The closer one looks, the worse his argument appears.


In early January, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy not only expressed confidence in Republicans taking back the chamber, he shared one of his top priorities for the next Congress: The GOP leader said he would remove Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell, Ilhan Omar and Adam Schiff from their committee assignments.

As 2022 progressed, this remained a preoccupation for McCarthy, and as The Hill reported over the weekend, now that Republicans know they will be in the majority, the GOP leader continues to push this to the top of his to-do list.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) reiterated his pledge to remove Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) from their committee posts if he becomes Speaker in the next Congress. McCarthy told Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo that he would remove Swalwell and Schiff from their posts on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing them of being compromised or biased.

As for Omar, McCarthy cited the Minnesotan’s “antisemitic comments” as a justification for kicking her off the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

At this point, we could spend a few paragraphs explaining that Schiff and Swalwell are not, in reality, “compromised.” We could also marvel at the irony of McCarthy targeting Omar as “antisemitic” while simultaneously making plans to reward Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, despite her ugly record of antisemitism. We could even note the inconvenient fact that McCarthy used to have a problem with Taylor Greene’s antisemitism, even as he pretends to have forgotten about his earlier criticisms.

For now, however, let’s put these details aside and consider a couple of broader angles.

The first has to do with standards. Circling back to our earlier coverage, Republicans are firmly of the opinion that Democrats effectively rewrote the rules when they stripped two far-right congressional extremists — Taylor Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar — of their committee assignments.

As far as McCarthy and other GOP leaders are concerned, this opened the flood gates: If Democrats can make such decisions about Greene and Gosar, then Republicans can make related decisions about Schiff, Swalwell and Omar. The retaliatory plans are part of a straightforward, tit-for-tat dynamic: Democrats removed some Republicans from their committees, so the GOP feels justified in removing some Democrats from their committees.

And while I have no doubt that many will take such an argument seriously, the details matter. Gosar and Greene were punished for a specific reason: They’re members who were accused of espousing violence. Democrats didn’t change the rules so much as they set a standard: To endorse political violence is to cross an important line that warrants congressional consequences.

If McCarthy has evidence of Omar, Schiff or Swalwell endorsing violence, he’d have a compelling point. But he doesn’t, which makes his vow ridiculous.

The second has to do with process. Under normal circumstances, Democratic leaders make committee assignments for Democratic members, just as Republican leaders make committee assignments for Republican members. To create an exception would require the vote of the full House.

And third, it ordinarily wouldn’t matter whether one party’s leadership doesn’t like another party leadership’s committee assignments. If Schiff wants to remain on the House Intelligence Committee in the next Congress, he’d need the support of Democratic leaders, not GOP leaders.

Will 218 House Republicans agree to retaliate against Omar, Schiff and Swalwell as part of a petty partisan exercise? Perhaps, but if they do, the door to similar measures will swing wider, and future ugliness will become inevitable.