House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has avenged Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) by blocking two Democrats from serving on a House committee.
McCarthy announced Tuesday he would refuse to seat Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff of California on the House Intelligence Committee — pure political payback for Democrats removing Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) from committees in 2021.
In a public letter to Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who had named the pair to the intelligence committee, McCarthy said that “in order to maintain a standard worthy of this committee’s responsibilities,” he would reject the appointment of the two Democrats.
Greene has emerged as McCarthy’s top ally on the far-right flank of the Republican Party. Democrats booted her from committees in 2021 when it came out that she had trafficked online in conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric toward political opponents, especially Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), before coming to Congress. McCarthy won Greene’s support for his speakership partly by promising to put her back on committees if Republicans controlled the House — a promise he has kept.
McCarthy did not explain in his letter why Swalwell and Schiff shouldn’t serve on the committee, but he has repeatedly claimed Swalwell would be unable to get a security clearance due to a past affiliation with a Chinese spy and that Schiff had lied to the American people. Both allegations are specious.
“This is not anything political,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol earlier on Tuesday. “This is not similar to what the Democrats did. Those members will have other committees, but the intel committee is different.”
Blocking the committee appointments is an obvious act of political retribution. McCarthy first suggested Republicans would do so in November 2021 when the House voted to boot Gosar from committees after he posted a weird cartoon video depicting himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
McCarthy can unilaterally deny seats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence because the speaker has more control over select committees than standing committees. He has also threatened to block Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from committees, but doing so would likely require a House vote.
In a Sunday letter to McCarthy, Jeffries said removing Republicans from committees for their threatening behavior toward colleagues shouldn’t be used as a precedent for removing Swalwell and Schiff. He described the appointment of “serial fraudster” George Santos (R-N.Y.) to two committees as a double standard.
McCarthy insisted Tuesday that a secret briefing he’d received from the FBI warranted Swalwell’s removal from the intel committee.
“The FBI was concerned about putting a member of Congress on the intel committee — that have the rights to see things that others don’t — because of his knowledge and relationship with a Chinese spy,” McCarthy said.
What’s publicly known about the allegation stems from a 2020 Axios story that said a Chinese spy ingratiated herself with elected Democrats from 2011 through 2015, including by raising money for Swalwell’s reelection, and that Swalwell immediately ceased all contact with the person after the FBI briefed him. The story didn’t lay out any wrongdoing by Swalwell.
McCarthy offered a list of grievances against Schiff, the former chair of the intelligence committee, including a dubious claim that he personally knew the whistleblower who sparked the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
In a joint statement, Swalwell, Schiff and Omar said McCarthy had “capitulated to the right wing” of the Republican Party and struck a corrupt bargain “that required political vengeance against the three of us.”