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Kevin McCarthy's committee power grab could hurt him — and us, too

Barring some Democrats from top House committees was a vengeful move by Kevin McCarthy. It doesn't seem all that smart politically.


House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is vowing to block three Democrats from key House committees as retribution for Democrats stripping two extremist far-right lawmakers of their committee assignments in the last Congress.

But McCarthy’s refusal to seat the Democrats — Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff of California — on powerful committees has a high chance of blowing up in his face. 

In joint news conference Wednesday with Omar and Schiff, Swalwell warned of the consequences posed by McCarthy's smear campaign.

“The cost is not only removing us from the committee,” Swalwell said, going on to say that “the costs are the death threats that Ms. Omar, myself and Mr. Schiff keep getting because Mr. McCarthy continues to aim and project these smears against us.”

Swalwell mentioned such threats on an episode of “Deadline: White House” last week.

Omar has talked about the value she’s brought to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, given that she’s the only African-born lawmaker on the panel. But I don’t think enough attention is being paid to what it may mean for such a panel to lose her voice. 

“As a child who survived war, [and] lived in a refugee camp, I would have never imagined that I would one day have the opportunity to serve on a subcommittee on Africa, global health and human rights,” she said Wednesday, touting her expertise. “Kevin McCarthy’s purely partisan move to strip us from our committee is not only a political stunt, but also a blow to the integrity of our democratic institution and threat to our national security.”

She’s right. (For background, check out this post I wrote last month on the importance of the Biden White House’s recent summit for African leaders.)

Essentially, African leaders want the U.S. to be less patriarchal toward African countries. And if they don’t see change in the relationship, they’re willing to take their business — which the U.S. needs to propel our aspirations of a thriving, high-tech economy —  to our global competitors, China and Russia. 

U.S. officials are worried about what that would mean, a point underscored by the fact that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield are both in Africa this week touting U.S.-Africa relations.

The trips show the heightened importance of that relationship, and it’d be helpful to have a voice like Omar’s — a knowledgeable and familiar one — involved in crafting international policies that don’t put that relationship at risk.

And Schiff noted Wednesday that McCarthy’s vendetta against him appears to stem from Schiff’s role in Donald Trump’s first impeachment, in which the then-president was accused of trying to withhold vital funding from Ukraine in exchange for political favors. 

So, to be clear: McCarthy’s move plays to a violent, conspiratorial base; it may roil international relations with Africa, which factors heavily in the United States’ future; and it’s a gift to Trump, a maniacal, fascistic 2024 presidential candidate.

These steps clearly aren’t being taken in the national interest. 

And it’s debatable how much good they’ll actually do for Republicans. The Justice Department has already indicated it won’t fork over some of the info Republicans want that relates to ongoing investigations. Even some members of McCarthy's caucus are pushing back (somewhat) against his committee chicanery. 

The spiteful House speaker clearly made these decisions out of anti-Democratic anger and fealty to his right-wing base. It may explode in his face, but the rest of us may be in the blast radius.