WASHINGTON — Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries tapped Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell to continue serving on the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, teeing up a long-anticipated fight with Speaker Kevin McCarthy who has vowed to block the pair from keeping their seats on the powerful panel.
The move means that the relationship between Jeffries, a New Yorker who is the new minority leader, and McCarthy of California, the new GOP speaker, is getting off to a rocky start.
Members of the Intelligence Committee are selected differently from other congressional committees because it is a “select” committee. As speaker, McCarthy has the authority to choose a chairman and Republican members. Jeffries, as minority leader, can nominate Democrats, but McCarthy has the power to reject them.
In numerous remarks to the media, McCarthy has promised to do just that in retribution for actions by his predecessor, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Democrats in the last Congress. He has specifically targeted Schiff and Swalwell, who played major roles in the impeachments of former President Donald Trump.
“It is my understanding that you intend to break with the longstanding House tradition of deference to the minority party Intelligence Committee recommendations 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 duly elected Members of the House Democratic Caucus runs counter to the serious and sober mission of the Intelligence Committee,” he continued.
Punchbowl News was first to report on the Jeffries letter.
Two years ago, Democrats voted to take the rare step and oust ultraconservative Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., from their committees after Greene made racist and antisemitic remarks on social media and Gosar tweeted an animation that depicted violence against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York and other Democrats.
“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,” Jeffries wrote.
Also in 2021, Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy’s picks — GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana — for the committee she created to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. In response, McCarthy and the Republicans boycotted the select committee, and Pelosi named two Republicans to serve alongside the Democrats.
Those actions angered McCarthy, and for months he has vowed to block Schiff and Swalwell from the Intelligence Committee. Schiff was Democrats’ lead prosecutor during the first impeachment, and Swalwell was one of the impeachment managers during the second impeachment focused on Trump’s role in the Capitol attack.
As recently as Jan. 12, McCarthy told reporters he would not seat Schiff and Swalwell, who regularly antagonize McCarthy in cable news appearances. McCarthy specifically called out Swalwell, citing Axios reporting that he was among several California politicians who had been targeted by a Chinese spy.
“You’re going to tell me that other Democrats couldn’t fill that slot?” McCarthy asked reporters. “He cannot get a security clearance in the private sector. So would you like to give him a government clearance?”
Swalwell has said he cooperated with the FBI in its investigation into the spy and did not do anything wrong. In a recent interview on MSNBC, Swalwell called McCarthy’s threats nothing more than “political vengeance.”
A separate battle could soon emerge over a third Democrat, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. After Republicans won back control of the House in November, McCarthy said he would push to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee “based on her repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks.”
But removing Omar from Foreign Affairs, which is not a select committee, would require a vote of the full House, similar to how Greene and Gosar were removed. And there is no guarantee that, given the fragile Republican majority, McCarthy could limit GOP defections and oust Omar.
Omar, a Somali refugee, is one of the first two Muslim American women to serve in Congress. She blasted McCarthy and the GOP in a statement after McCarthy’s threats.
“McCarthy’s effort to repeatedly single me out for scorn and hatred … gin[s] up fear and hate against Somali-Americans and anyone who shares my identity, and further divide[s] us along racial and ethnic lines,” she said.
In an MSNBC interview Monday night, Schiff described McCarthy’s threat against him and his Democratic colleagues as “payback” for Greene’s removal from committees during her first term.
“This is Kevin McCarthy’s promise to the Marjorie Taylor Greenes in order to earn their vote, that he will bring payback, because she was properly removed from her committee,” Schiff told MNSBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. “And this is Kevin McCarthy’s basic math problem: He can’t remain speaker unless he does the dirty work of the most extreme elements of his conference.”
In his letter Monday, Jeffries also called out Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., whom he called a “serial fraudster,” for being seated on committees while Democratic members could lose their places.
“The apparent double standard risks undermining the spirit of bipartisan cooperation that is so desperately needed in Congress,” Jeffries wrote.