Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday formally rejected two Democrats — Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.) — from serving on the House Intelligence Committee, escalating the two-year tit-for-tat battle between the parties over who is qualified for certain positions on Capitol Hill.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) had written to McCarthy on Saturday asking that both Schiff and Swalwell be seated on the Intel panel, where membership assignments come solely at the discretion of the Speaker.
But McCarthy said Schiff’s and Swalwell’s previous actions make them unfit to serve on a panel with jurisdiction over and access to sensitive issues of national security.
“In order to maintain a standard worthy of this committee’s responsibilities, I am hereby rejecting the appointments of Representative Adam Schiff and Representative Eric Swalwell to serve on the Intelligence Committee,” he wrote in a letter to Jeffries on Tuesday.
The move was no surprise.
Republicans have been up in arms over the issue since 2021, when Democrats staged votes to remove GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) from their committees following revelations that they had promoted violence against some of their Democratic colleagues. The eviction votes came after McCarthy declined to punish either lawmaker internally within the GOP conference, which is typically where such disciplinary actions are meted out.
Still, McCarthy on Tuesday denied that his decision regarding Schiff and Swalwell was retribution for Greene and Gosar.
“This is not not anything political. This is not similar to what the Democrats did,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday evening just outside his office in the Capitol.
Schiff, the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, had led a series of investigations into former President Trump, serving as the lead impeachment manager of Trump’s first impeachment, which both heightened his national profile and made him radioactive among Trump’s supporters.
McCarthy has accused him of lying to the public about Trump’s ties to Russia — a charge that Schiff has dismissed as political retribution.
“His objection seems to be that I was the lead impeachment manager in Donald Trump’s first impeachment and that we held him accountable for withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid from Ukraine in order to try to extort that country into helping his political campaign,” Schiff told reporters Tuesday night.
Schiff also noted that McCarthy’s road to the Speakership was successful only after he secured the support of former critics, including Greene, charging that the process had left him beholden to those conservatives.
“I think it’s just another body blow to the institution of Congress, that he’s behaving this way, but it shows just how weak he is as a Speaker that he has to give in to the most extreme elements of his conference, in this case the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Paul Gosars,” Schiff said.
The accusations surrounding Swalwell are of a different sort. The California Democrat was associated with a suspected Chinese spy who had fundraised for his 2014 campaign — a revelation that was not made public until 2020 — and McCarthy has said that a confidential FBI briefing on the episode has left him convinced that Swalwell is a national security risk.
“When Eric Swalwell would be in the private sector and can’t get the security clearance there, we are not gonna provide him with the secrets to America,” McCarthy told reporters.
McCarthy has also vowed to block Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from sitting on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as a rebuke for previous comments she made that were critical of Israel and its supporters, some of which have sparked allegations of antisemitism. In 2019, the congresswoman — who is a Somali refugee — apologized after suggesting that wealthy Jews were buying congressional support for Israel.
Omar’s situation, however, is different from that of Schiff or Swalwell. While McCarthy has the unilateral authority to block appointments to the Intelligence Committee, the full House must ratify committee membership for the Foreign Affairs panel — meaning a majority of the chamber will have to vote to block the congresswoman from serving.
That effort is already proving to be an uphill battle. Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) announced Tuesday that she will not support keeping Omar off the Foreign Affairs committee, and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) has expressed a coolness to the idea.
Republicans can afford to lose only four votes in the narrowly split House amid united Democratic opposition, which means the party can afford only two more defectors to still block Omar. That number could shrink to one if Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), who is recovering in Florida from a fall, misses the vote. The congressman on Monday said he will be “sidelined in Sarasota for several weeks.”
It is unclear when a vote to block Omar from the panel will come to the floor. The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee is slated to meet this week and finish committee assignments, and Omar is expected to return to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The full chamber would then be tasked with ratifying the rosters.
Asked on Tuesday how confident he is that there will be enough support to block Omar from the Foreign Affairs panel, McCarthy told reporters that “it would be odd to me that members would not support that based upon her comments against Israel.”
Pressed on those character allegations Tuesday, Omar told reporters that “all of those have been addressed three years ago.”
Schiff, Swalwell and Omar issued a joint defense minutes after McCarthy sent his letter, tying the GOP leader to the right flank of his party.
“It’s disappointing but not surprising that Kevin McCarthy has capitulated to the right wing of his caucus, undermining the integrity of the Congress, and harming our national security in the process,” the trio said. “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.”
Updated at 8:26 p.m.