House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday blocked fellow California Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swalwell from continuing to serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The denial follows through on a pledge by McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) to remove Schiff (D-Burbank) and Swalwell (D-Dublin) from the panel in retaliation for a move by Democrats — and some Republicans — in the last Congress to strip GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona of their committee assignments.
“I appreciate the loyalty you have to your Democrat colleagues,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who requested over the weekend that Schiff and Swalwell retain their seats on the panel. “But I cannot put partisan loyalty ahead of national security.”
McCarthy described his rejection of the California Democrats as a step toward maintaining “a standard worthy of this committee’s responsibilities.” The panel provides oversight of the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Military Intelligence Program.
McCarthy claimed the panel was misused with Democrats in the majority during the last four years, “severely” undermining national security and oversight.
Schiff and Swalwell were quick to react.
Schiff called the move “petty, political payback for investigating Donald Trump” and warned in a fundraising email that it’s also “a dangerous effort to go after anyone who holds [Republicans] accountable” and risks turning the committee “into a political plaything for their right-wing supporters.”
“If he thinks this will stop me, he will soon find out just how wrong he is,” Schiff tweeted, referring to McCarthy.
“This rejection is based on a claim that the Washington Post independent-fact checker gave 4 Pinocchios,” Swalwell tweeted. “[GOP] Speaker Boehner and Ryan, both Gang of 8 members, appointed me to Intel with access to the same facts McCarthy is distorting. He can keep me off Intel, but I’m not going away.”
McCarthy has also vowed to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but it’s unclear whether he has the votes to do so.
Under House rules, the speaker has unilateral authority to keep Schiff and Swalwell off the high-profile select intelligence panel. Removing Omar from a standing committee will require a full floor vote.
At least two Republicans — Reps. Victoria Spartz of Indiana and Nancy Mace of South Carolina — have said they won’t vote to remove Omar from the panel. With a razor-thin majority, Republicans can’t afford more than four defections to boot Omar from the committee.
Over the weekend, Jeffries urged McCarthy”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 his recommendations for Schiff to serve as the panel’s ranking member and Swalwell to retain his membership.
Jeffries said that the removal of Greene and Gosar from their committees was no “precedent or justification” for removing Schiff and Swalwell.
Greene was removed in February 2021 following a backlash over comments she made before taking office expressing support for baseless conspiracy theories and appearing to endorse violence against Democratic lawmakers. She later distanced herself from the comments
Gosar faced a similar punishment in November 2021 after posting, and later deleting, a cartoon video with his face superimposed on a character who kills someone with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) face and wields swords against President Biden.
McCarthy said removing Schiff, the lead manager during the first impeachment of President Trump, is justified because Schiff “lied” to the public about certain details related to a whistleblower report that triggered the investigation, and dismissed as a Russian ploy emails found on a laptop allegedly owned by Hunter Biden.
McCarthy has argued that Swalwell couldn’t get a security clearance in the private sector following a report that he was targeted by a suspected Chinese spy, with whom he later cut ties.
In separate letters to the Steering and Policy Committee earlier this month, Schiff and Swalwell maintained that McCarthy has no basis for removing any Democrats from committees and said he shouldn’t do so based on “smears and falsehoods” or “fabricated stories or political revenge.”
But there’s nothing Democrats can do to reverse his decision.
On Monday, McCarthy said he would add Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) to the Intelligence Committee. Schiff and Swalwell are the second and third California members to leave the panel since the last Congress, when former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) resigned to run former President Trump’s media and technology company.
Party leaders reached agreement over the weekend on committee ratios for the new Congress, and the Republican Steering Committee last week selected Greene and Gosar to serve on the Oversight and Accountability Committee. Greene will also have a seat on the Homeland Security Committee, and Gosar will sit on the Natural Resources Committee.