Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday amplified his pledge to keep a pair of high-profile Democrats — Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.) — from joining the powerful House Intelligence Committee in the new Congress.
Both Schiff and Swalwell played an outsized role in the impeachments of former President Trump, becoming toxic figures among Republicans in the process.
McCarthy has vowed for months to remove them from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, known as HPSCI, in the wake of the Democrats’ move to strip two Republicans — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (Ga.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) — of their committee assignments in the last Congress.
On Thursday, McCarthy said he’s not backing down.
“What I am doing with the Intel Committee [is] bringing it back to the jurisdiction it's supposed to do. Forward-looking to keep this country safe, keep the politics out of it,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol.
“So yes, I'm doing exactly what we're supposed to do," he added.
The reasons Republicans are targeting Schiff and Swalwell are unique to each lawmaker.
For Schiff, the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, McCarthy has focused on his role in the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, accusing Schiff of lying to the public about the depth of that affiliation.
He’s also accused Schiff, who was the lead manager in Trump’s first impeachment, of exaggerating the central assertion of that case, which charged Trump with leveraging U.S. military aid to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate his political adversaries.
“He put America — for four years — through an impeachment that he knew was a lie,” McCarthy said Thursday.
In Swalwell’s case, Republicans have highlighted his ties to a suspected Chinese spy who had helped fundraise for Swalwell’s 2014 reelection campaign — an episode that became public only in 2020, when Axios reported it.
“If you got the briefing I got from the FBI, you wouldn't have Swalwell on any committee,” McCarthy said.
Swalwell, who had cut ties with the Chinese national when informed of her identity by the FBI, said this week that McCarthy’s decision to remove him from HPSCI was “purely vengeance” for Swalwell’s role as a manager in Trump’s second impeachment, which followed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“I did what I hope every one of my colleagues would do, which was to help the FBI get this person out of the country,” Swalwell said Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes. “This is only about vengeance, and there's no substantive reason to remove us.”
Separately, McCarthy is also vowing to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of three Muslim lawmakers in Congress, from her spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Omar has been highly critical of the Israeli government and its supporters, particularly on issues related to Palestinian rights, leading to charges of antisemitism. In one 2019 episode, Omar was forced to apologize after suggesting wealthy Jews are buying congressional support for Israel.
McCarthy did not mention Omar on Thursday, but told the GOP conference earlier in the week that he would follow through on his pledge to block all three Democrats — Omar, Schiff and Swalwell — from their top committees, according to lawmakers in the meeting.
“Speaker McCarthy confirms that Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Ilhan Omar are getting kicked off the Intel and Foreign Affairs Committees,” Rep. Troy Nehls, a Texas Republican, tweeted on Tuesday after the closed-door gathering.
“Promises made. Promises kept!” he added.
The process for removing a lawmaker from a standing committee like Foreign Affairs is different than for kicking representatives off the HPSCI, which is a select committee.
McCarthy, as House Speaker, has the power to reject Schiff and Swalwell unilaterally. By contrast, Republicans would have to bring a resolution removing Omar to the House floor, as Democrats did with Greene and Gosar in 2021.
As the parties clash over the legitimacy of stripping committees from the three targeted Democrats, it’s unclear if McCarthy will even be confronted with that option in the case of Schiff and Swalwell. That’s because Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the new Democratic leader, has not yet indicated whether he will seat those two on the Intelligence panel in the new Congress.
HPSCI has term limits on its members, and Swalwell is at the end of the four-cycle cap, leading to questions of whether Jeffries would supply a waiver to try to keep him aboard. Schiff, as the top Democrat on the panel, is exempt from those limits.
Jeffries has begun the process of naming Democrats to the various committees, including the Ethics panel, which revealed its roster on Tuesday. But he has not revealed the Democrats he’s putting forward for the Intelligence panel.
Jeffries’s office did not respond on Thursday to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, other members of the Intelligence Committee are itching to get seated — and secure their security clearances — so they can get to work in the new Congress.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who is seeking to replace Schiff as Intel’s top Democrat if Schiff falls off the committee, said Thursday that members of the panel are eager to regain access to their classified briefings, not least because of the recent news that President Biden was found to be in private possession of confidential documents.
“It's a sensitive moment not to have, you know — you can't get briefed on whatever the Biden classified documents are, [and] from a party standpoint, you don't have a very clear spokesman on the issue,” Himes said. “So I'm hoping it's soon."