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McCarthy blocks Democrats Schiff, Swalwell from Intelligence Committee

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Jan. 24 said he would block California Democratic Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the Intelligence panel. (Video: The Washington Post)
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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday he will block Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swalwell from serving on the House Intelligence Committee, days after House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) formally recommended the reappointment of the California Democrats to the panel.

McCarthy had vowed retribution if Republicans won the majority after the Democratic-led House stripped two Republicans, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), of their committee assignments in 2021 for embracing violence against political foes in social media posts. McCarthy also seethed after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refused to seat Republicans who had voted to overturn the 2020 election on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

McCarthy has argued that both Schiff and Swalwell are unfit to serve on the committee, citing Schiff’s work conducting the first impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump and Swalwell’s alleged ties to a Chinese intelligence operative. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing in relation to the allegation against Swalwell.

“This is not anything political. This is not similar to what the Democrats did,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday evening. “Those members will have other committees, but the Intel Committee, the Intel Committee’s responsibility” is national security, he said. “I respect Hakeem Jeffries’s support of his conference and his people. But integrity matters,” he added.

Unlike most committees, whose appointees are determined by party leaders, the speaker has final say over who sits on the Intelligence panel.

McCarthy declined to answer multiple questions on whether he will try to keep Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee — a move that would require a majority vote in the full House.

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Jeffries told reporters Wednesday that he is still “in the process of formulating our entire slate” for the Intelligence Committee. “I expect that will happen sooner rather than later,” he said.

Asked about the impasse with the speaker, Jeffries said the letter he sent McCarthy urging him to seat Schiff and Swalwell on the committee “speaks for itself.”

During a news conference Wednesday, Schiff, standing alongside Swalwell and Omar, added that his “cardinal sin appears to be that I led the impeachment of [McCarthy’s] master in Mar-a-Lago.” He added: “He will do the former president’s bidding. He’s entirely reliant on the former president, and this is something the former president wants.”

Swalwell added that he, Schiff and Omar have “chosen to stick together” as they navigate the faceoff with McCarthy. “This isn’t about any individual committee assignment,” Swalwell said. “This is about an institution where the speaker of the House is using his power to go after his political opponents.”

Omar thanked her fellow Democrats and the “courageous Republicans” who are standing with the trio, saying McCarthy’s move is “not only a political stunt, but also a blow to the integrity of our democratic institution and a threat to national security.”

Republicans have been keen to deny Democrats positions on key panels after the Democratic-led House in the last Congress voted to remove Greene and Gosar from their committee assignments. Greene had voiced approval of violence against prominent Democrats, and Gosar had posted an animated video on social media that depicted the killing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). In the votes to remove them from their committee slots, some Republicans joined Democrats in voting yes.

Greene and Gosar were removed “after a bipartisan vote of the House found them unfit to serve on standing committees for directly inciting violence against their colleagues,” Jeffries wrote in his letter. “It does not serve as precedent or justification for the removal of Representatives Schiff and Swalwell, given that they have never exhibited violent thoughts or behavior.”

McCarthy, in his formal response to Jeffries on Tuesday, said he cannot “put partisan loyalty ahead of national security” and accused Democrats of misusing the panel during the past two congressional terms. McCarthy claimed that, under Democratic control, the panel “undermined its primary national security and oversight missions — ultimately leaving our nation less safe.”

In a joint statement released Tuesday after McCarthy’s announcement, Schiff, Omar and Swalwell said they find it “disappointing but not surprising” that McCarthy would attempt to keep them from committee assignments. They accused him of “undermining the integrity of the Congress, and harming our national security in the process.”

“He struck a corrupt bargain in his desperate, and nearly failed, attempt to win the Speakership, a bargain that required political vengeance against the three of us,” they said, referring to the negotiations McCarthy engaged in with the far-right flank of his party during his lengthy fight for the speakership.

McCarthy may not have the votes in the House to strip Omar of her Foreign Affairs Committee assignment. Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) has signaled she would vote against such a step, and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) has indicated she also might oppose it to be consistent, as she voted against ejecting Greene from her committee. McCarthy has a razor-thin majority and can’t afford to lose more than four votes.

“As I spoke against it on the House floor two years ago, I will not support this charade again,” Spartz said in a statement Tuesday. “Speaker McCarthy needs to stop ‘bread and circuses’ in Congress and start governing for a change.”