WASHINGTON — Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries on Monday named Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell to continue serving on the House Intelligence Committee, igniting a long-anticipated fight with Chairman Kevin McCarthy, who has vowed to stop the two from holding their seats on the powerful panel.
The move means the relationship between Jeffries, a New Yorker and new minority leader, and McCarthy, a Californian and new Republican speaker, is off to a rocky start.
Members of the Intelligence panel are selected differently than other congressional committees because it is a «selected» committee. As speaker, McCarthy has the authority to choose a chair and the Republican members of the panel. Jeffries, as minority leader, can nominate Democrats to the panel, but McCarthy has the power to reject them.
In numerous comments to the press, McCarthy has vowed to do just that in retribution for the actions of his predecessor, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Democrats in the last Congress. She has specifically targeted Schiff and Swalwell, who played major roles in the impeachment trials against former President Donald Trump.
“It is my understanding that you intend to break with the House’s long tradition of deference to the recommendations of the minority party Intelligence Committee and deny seats to Ranking Member Schiff and Representative Swalwell,” Jeffries wrote in a letter to McCarthy, officially nominating the two Democrats.
“The denial of seats to the duly elected members of the House Democratic Caucus goes against the serious and sober mission of the Intelligence Committee,” he continued.
Punchbowl News was the first to report on Jeffries’s letter.
Two years ago, Democrats voted to take the rare step of ousting ultra-conservative Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., from their committees after Greene made racist and anti-Semitic comments in posts. on social networks. and Gosar tweeted an animation showing violence against New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and other Democrats.
“It does not serve as a precedent or justification for the removal of Representatives Schiff and Swalwell, since they have never exhibited violent thoughts or behavior,” Jeffries wrote.
Also in 2021, then-Speaker Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy’s picks, Republican Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, for the committee she created to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. In response, McCarthy and the Republicans boycotted the select committee, and Pelosi appointed two Republicans to serve alongside the Democrats.
Those actions infuriated McCarthy, and for months he vowed to block Schiff and Swalwell from the Intelligence panel. Schiff served as the Democrats’ lead prosecutor during the first impeachment trial, while Swalwell was one of the impeachment administrators during the second impeachment trial focused on Trump’s role in the attack on the Capitol.
As recently as January 12, McCarthy told reporters that he would not sit Schiff and Swalwell, who regularly oppose McCarthy during cable news appearances. McCarthy specifically called out Swalwell, citing Axios Reports that the Democrat was among several California politicians who had been attacked by a Chinese spy.
«Are you going to tell me that other Democrats couldn’t fill that position?» McCarthy asked reporters. “You cannot get a security clearance in the private sector. So, would you like to give him a government clearance?
Swalwell has said that he cooperated with the FBI in their investigation into the spy and did nothing wrong. During a recent interview in msnbcSwalwell called McCarthy’s threats against him nothing more than «political revenge.»
A separate battle could soon erupt over a third Democrat, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. After Republicans regained control of the House in November, McCarthy said she would push to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee «based on his repeated anti-Semitic and anti-American comments.»
But removing Omar from Foreign Relations, which is not a select committee, would require a vote of the full House of Representatives, similar to how Greene and Gosar were removed. And there is no guarantee that, given the fragile Republican majority, McCarthy will be able to limit Republican defections and successfully oust Omar.
Omar is a Somali refugee and one of the first two Muslim American women to serve in Congress. She criticized McCarthy and the Republican Party in a statement after McCarthy’s threats.
“McCarthy’s effort to repeatedly single me out for contempt and hate… gin[s] creating fear and hatred against Somali Americans and anyone who shares my identity, and further dividing us along racial and ethnic lines,” Omar said.
In his letter Monday, Jeffries also took the opportunity to call Rep. George Santos, RN.Y., a «serial con man» for sitting on committees while Democratic members could lose their seats.
“The apparent double standards risk undermining the spirit of bipartisan cooperation that is so desperately needed in Congress,” Jeffries wrote.