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Targeting key House Democrats, McCarthy gives McCarthyism a try

Kevin McCarthy tried to explain why he'll block specific Democrats from serving on the House Intelligence Committee. His pitch went surprisingly badly.


By any fair measure, the House Republicans’ newly created committee on the “weaponization” of government is a potentially dangerous and wildly unnecessary mess. That said, Democratic members will be able to participate in the conspiratorial investigation, and as my MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones explained this week, the minority party has learned that boycotting panels like these doesn’t work.

Indeed, it’s a lesson Democrats learned by watching House Speaker Kevin McCarthy himself, who boycotted the bipartisan Jan. 6 committee — a decision the GOP ultimately came to regret.

It’s against this backdrop that the California Republican bragged during a news conference yesterday that he’ll let Democrats name their own committee members. A reporter quickly reminded McCarthy that, despite his boast, he actually intends to use his power to keep Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff — among others — from serving on the House Intelligence Committee, regardless of Democrats’ wishes.

At that point, the new House speaker shifted from bragging about letting Democrats name their own committee members to explaining why he wouldn’t let Democrats name some of their own committee members:

“Let me phrase something very direct to you. If you got the briefing I got from the FBI, you wouldn’t have Swalwell on any committee. ... He cannot get a security clearance in the private sector. So would you like to give him a government clearance? ... The FBI came and told the leadership then, ‘He’s got a problem,’ and [Democrats] kept him on [the House Intelligence Committee]. That jeopardized all of us.”

It’s important to emphasize that Swalwell has never been publicly accused of any wrongdoing that would necessitate his removal from the House Intelligence Committee. The California Democrat had been targeted by a suspected Chinese intelligence operative several years ago, but Swalwell cooperated with the FBI’s investigation into the matter, and there’s no available evidence suggesting the congressman did anything wrong.

What McCarthy argued yesterday, however, is that he has seen secret evidence — and that we should all just take his word for it.

I seem to recall another member of Congress named McCarthy, who also made provocative allegations against his political foes, pointing to secret evidence he couldn’t share. It gave rise to a practice you've probably heard of: It’s known as McCarthyism.

It’s a legacy the House speaker should try to avoid.

As for the former chairman of the intelligence panel, McCarthy added yesterday: “Adam Schiff openly lied to the American public. ... He put America for four years through an impeachment that he knew was a lie.”

First, McCarthy hasn’t actually pointed to any evidence of Schiff lying about anything. (I suspect the speaker was referring to Donald Trump’s Russia scandal, which was entirely real and supported by overwhelming evidence.) Second, both of Trump’s impeachments were legitimate and based on facts. And third, neither of Trump’s impeachments lasted four years.

Nevertheless, the speaker, who has the authority to restrict membership on the Intelligence Committee, intends to proceed in blocking Swalwell and Schiff, telling reporters yesterday, “I’m doing exactly what we’re supposed to do.”

For his part, Swalwell explained to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes this week that McCarthy is obviously pursuing partisan “vengeance,” adding that “there’s no substantive reason to remove us” from the panel.

Update: The Hill noted that the Intelligence Committee imposes term limits on its members, and Swalwell "is at the end of the four-cycle cap." Democratic leaders could pursue a waiver, but with McCarthy intervening, that now seems unlikely.