A GOP promise to expel two Democrats from the House Intelligence Committee would dramatically escalate partisan warfare over panel assignments, potentially ending the intelligence career of Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) while increasing fears that the new majority intends to trample on minority rights.
The vow by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is busily seeking support for the Speakership in the new House, would diminish the power of two of the most vocal critics of former President Trump in Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) just as the former president has launched a reelection bid.
It is drawing howls of protest from Democrats and also comes as McCarthy promises to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
While the committee was always set to undergo a shake-up next year — the result of routine, post-election restructuring — the McCarthy vows, if fulfilled, would represent a much more aggressive action by a new majority to take vengeance on its political opponents.
McCarthy has accused Schiff of lying to the public, both about President Trump’s ties to Moscow and Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine. And he’s gone after Swalwell for his ties to a Chinese spy who had targeted California politicians.
“Eric Swalwell cannot get a security clearance in the public sector. Why would we ever give him a security clearance in the secrets to America? So I will not allow him to be on Intel,” McCarthy told Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo.
“You have Adam Schiff, who had lied to the American public time and again,” McCarthy continued. “We will not allow him to be on the Intel Committee either.“
Omar, a former Somali refugee who is one of three Muslims in Congress, is frequently critical of the Israeli government on issues of human rights. Omar’s detractors, including McCarthy, say her comments have at times crossed a line into antisemitism.
The removals, which still require approval of the full House, would mark a sharp escalation in the impassioned partisan debate over who controls the levers of power when it comes to committee assignments — and what sorts of behaviors merit expulsion. Typically, party leaders assign committee seats to their respective members independent of the opposing party.
That conversation took a fierce turn early last year, just after Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, when Democrats took the extraordinary step of removing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a first-term conservative, from her two committee seats. The vote was prompted by revelations that Greene had promoted the execution of leading Democrats — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — in the years before she was elected to Congress.
Democrats have defended the evictions of Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who was separately removed from the Oversight and Reform Committee and the Natural Resources Committee, pointing to the extraordinarily violent nature of the actions that prompted them.
Gosar had posted an animated video in which his avatar executes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a prominent liberal, with a sword.
Now, as McCarthy is vowing to retaliate, they’re accusing him of promoting false equivalencies simply to defang his political enemies.
“That’s always the worry. That’s the institutional concern, that you start normalizing this behavior and that processes were reserved only for the most egregious circumstances,” Tim Bergreen, an attorney who previously served as staff director for the committee’s Democrats, told The Hill.
In this case, he sees the action as being “based on essentially the fact that … you don’t like the two members in question.”
“[Schiff] has tried to comport himself in sort of the highest traditions of congressional service. And the same with Swalwell. And that doesn’t mean that they don’t fight hard. And it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to get on television and say tough things about their Republican colleagues,” he said.
“To somehow compare how they conduct themselves to people who essentially would be happy to torch the institution and have no reverence. … I just think that there’s no comparison,” Bergreen added.
The members themselves appear to be taking the threat in stride. Swalwell suggested that McCarthy’s difficulties in securing the GOP support he’ll need to be Speaker might preclude any expulsions next year.
“Talk to me if Kevin McCarthy is Speaker,” Swalwell said in a statement.
In a Friday appearance on CNN, Swalwell said the move would come “from a place of retaliation, not from any substance or merit.”
“He’s doing that because I’m effective. I effectively, I think, held Donald Trump to account when I was on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees while he was in the White House, and so did Adam Schiff, who he’s also targeted,” he added.
“Look, any coach on a Sunday morning, on an NFL field would love to take the other team’s best players off the pitch and, and that’s what Kevin McCarthy is trying to do here.”
Schiff is also lashing back, accusing McCarthy of bowing to the wishes of Greene, a previous critic, simply to win her support in the Speaker’s vote.
“Well, I suspect he will do whatever Marjorie Taylor Greene wants him to do. He’s a very weak leader of this conference, meaning that he will adhere to the wishes of the lowest common denominator, and if that lowest common denominator wants to remove people from committees, that’s what they’ll do,” Schiff said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program.
For Swalwell, the GOP is focused on his relationship with a woman later revealed to be a Chinese spy. Christine Fang focused on a number of Bay Area politicians, aiding in Swalwell’s 2014 reelection campaign. After a defensive briefing from the FBI in 2015, Swalwell cut off ties with Fang. His connection with her was first reported five years later.
Mark Zaid, a national security law and clearance expert, suggested stripping Swalwell’s committee post based on the incident would be a partisan move, impacting a panel that until recently “had been largely immune to such dangers.”
“Members of Congress are granted access to classified information by virtue of their elected position and are not subject to the Executive Branch’s investigatory or due process system,” he said, dismissing McCarthy’s claims Swalwell would be unable to secure a clearance.
“A determination of trustworthiness is based on a set of adjudicative guidelines and it is dangerous, and indeed irresponsible, to assess another member’s potential situation, particularly if living in a glass house as so many serving in Congress likely do.”
For Schiff, McCarthy has accused him of lying in the broader context of the investigation into ties between Trump and Russia.
Bergreen pointed to the now discredited Steele dossier — named after former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele — that emerged early in the investigation.
“McCarthy is saying that because Schiff was trying to track down some of the weeds in the Steele dossier, and he would discuss that not only in the committee, but when asked about in the press, that somehow that rendered him unfit to hold a committee chairmanship or even a position on the committee, because it turned out that not everything in the Steele dossier was true, which is a standard of idiocy,” he said.
“If that’s the standard, then I guess anyone who was part of the Benghazi witch hunt … I guess maybe they ought to be sort of not allowed to serve on a committee,” he added.