WASHINGTON — Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday unilaterally kicked Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swawell off the House Intelligence Committee, making good on a long-standing threat to expel California Democrats in his first major act of partisan retribution since taking the majority.
The move was a long-awaited showdown after then-majority Democrats voted in 2021 to remove two Republicans, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona, from congressional panels on Internet posts that advocated violence against their political enemies. It was also payback for decision by Nancy Pelosithen speaker of the House of Representatives, to bar Republicans who helped former President Donald J. Trump to spread the election lies that fueled the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to sit on the special committee investigating the riot.
Now that he is in control, Mr. McCarthy has sought to punish Mr. Schiff and Mr. Swawell, two favorite Republican candidates who played key roles in both of Mr. Trump’s impeachments, even as he denied his decision to is revenge. Instead, he argued that both men displayed behavior that was not appropriate for the committee charged with overseeing national intelligence.
IN letter outlining his decision to Hakeem Jeffries, the House Minority Leader, Mr McCarthy condemned what he described as “abuse” of the intelligence panel over the past four years, saying it had “severely undermined its core national security and oversight missions — ultimately leaving our nation less safe.” He called the firings of Mr. Schiff and Mr. Swawell necessary “to maintain a standard worthy of the responsibilities of this commission.”
Mr. McCarthy said that Mr. Schiff “blatantly lied to the American people” when he chaired the Intelligence Committee during Mr. Trump’s presidency. In September 2019, Mr. Schiff was rebuked by Republicans for dramatically paraphrasing the contents of a phone call in which Mr. Trump had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, and for implied, falsethat his committee had no contact with a whistleblower, raising concerns about their conversation.
The 118th Congress is underway, with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and Democrats holding the Senate.
Earlier, in March 2019, Republicans on the committee had demanded Mr. Schiff to step back for saying that he had seen “more than circumstantial evidence” of collusion between Mr. Trump and the Russians in 2017. That claim was called into question by the findings of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who looked into the matter, which Attorney General William P. Barr had summarized in a letter to some members of Congress. Republicans accused Mr. Schiff of compromising the panel’s integrity by knowingly promoting false information.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday night, Mr. Schiff countered that Mr. McCarthy was “trying to remove me from the intelligence committee for holding his boss accountable at Mar-a-Lago.”
“For him to behave like this is just another blow to the Congress institution, but it just shows how weak he is as an orator,” he added.
Republicans opposed Mr. Swawell, who was a manager in Mr. Trump’s second impeachment trial, citing Axios report which reported that Mr. Swawell was targeted by a suspected Chinese spy as part of an influence campaign in 2014 before he served on the intelligence panel. The report said that around 2015, federal investigators alerted Mr. Swawell to their concerns and he “severed all ties.”
“This is all about political vendetta,” Mr. Swawell said of Mr. McCarthy’s action.
Because the intelligence panel is a “select” committee, the speaker has the power to dictate who can serve, just as Ms. Pelosi was able to block Mr. McCarthy’s Republican appointees from the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. However, Mr. Schiff and Mr. Swawell are not expected to lose their other commission assignments.
Removal of members from other committees requires a floor vote. Democrats held such a vote in February 2021 to remove Ms. Green from the Education and Budget committees after social media posts surfaced before she was elected in which she endorsed the execution of Democrats and spread bigoted conspiracy theories . They held another vote months later to oust Mr. Gosar from his committees after he published animated video depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat.
In both cases, some Republicans joined Democrats in voting to remove their colleagues from the congressional panels.
Mr. McCarthy returned Ms. Green and Mr. Gosar to the committees earlier this month and promoted Ms. Green to serve on two high-profile panels, Oversight and Homeland Security. Mr Gosar also won a seat on the Supervisory Board.
Mr. McCarthy has also threatened to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, from congressional committees for criticism of Israel, which Republicans and some Democrats have condemned as anti-Semitic. Mrs. Omar apologized in 2019 for saying that support for Israel in Washington was “all about Benjamin’s baby,” a comment that members of both parties denounced as a reference to an anti-Semitic trope. She was criticized again in 2021 when she made statements that appeared to compare Israel’s human rights abuses to acts committed by Hamas and the Taliban, and later said she did not mean to equate them.
It was not clear whether Mr McCarthy, who has a razor-thin majority, has the votes to oust Ms Omar. At least two Republicans have publicly expressed concerns about it.
And the Minnesota Democrat on Tuesday night told reporters at the Capitol that some Republicans had told her privately they thought such a move would be “unnecessary.”
“They’re trying to do what they can within their conference to make sure there’s not going to be a vote to remove me from the Foreign Affairs Committee,” she added.
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