House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday officially denied seats on the House Intelligence Committee to Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff, the former chairman of the panel.
The decision reflects the increasingly politicized nature of one of Congress’ most important national security committees and was swiftly met with outrage by the two California Democrats, both of whom played key roles in the impeachments of former President Donald Trump.
“I cannot put partisan loyalty ahead of national security, and I cannot simply recognize years of service as the sole criteria for membership on this essential committee. Integrity matters more,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries that he posted on Twitter Tuesday night.
McCarthy has cited a “new standard” from Democrats for why he would strip Schiff and Swalwell, both of California, of their committee assignments. The Democrat-led House in 2021 removed GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona from their committees for inflammatory rhetoric, including support for violence against Democratic members of Congress.
In the letter, McCarthy added that “it is my assessment that the misuse of this panel during the 116th and 117th Congresses severely undermined its primary national security and oversight missions – ultimately leaving our nation less safe,” and that he wants the panel to be one of “genuine honesty and credibility that regains the trust of the American people.”
“It’s political vengeance,” Swalwell said following the decision on Tuesday. “It’s too bad because that committee has always been a bipartisan committee, and he’s taking one of the most precious pieces of glassware in the congressional cabinet and smashing it, and the damage is going to be irreparable.”
He added that “if a Democrat advocated for violence against another member of Congress, I would support getting rid of them.”
Schiff told reporters that “if McCarthy thinks this is going to stop me from vigorously pushing back against his efforts to tear down these institutions, he’s going to find out just how wrong he is.”
“I think this is a terrible move on his part and once again, showing McCarthy just catering to the most extreme elements of this conference,” he added.
Schiff will sit on the Judiciary Committee, according to a Democratic aide, while Swalwell told CNN he will sit on the Judiciary and Homeland Security panels.
Some House Republicans have criticized McCarthy’s move ejecting Democrats from the intelligence panel. GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana said in a statement that she opposes the push to remove the Democrats.
“I appreciate these Republican members speaking out against what McCarthy is doing,” Schiff later told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360.”
“I think it does show that there are Republicans who understand this is very ill considered. It’s just going to damage the institution, it’s not justified,” he added. “These efforts are not at all bipartisan. Indeed, the opposition to it is bipartisan.”
The three Democrats whom McCarthy ousted or plan to oust stood in unity at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday.
“The three of us have chosen to stick together because this isn’t about any individual committee assignments, and this is about an institution where the speaker of the House is using his power to go after his political opponents, and to pick them off the field,” Swalwell said.
They all seemed in agreement that the “destructive move” was especially hypocritical, given embattled Rep. George Santos has been seated on committees. Democrats and Republicans have called on Santos, a freshman Republican from New York, to resign following a series of false statements he has made including misrepresenting parts of his identity and his resume.
“This is a Republican speaker who is seating a human fraud, George Santos, on committees, a serial fabricator about every part of his existence. He’s perfectly comfortable with it,” Schiff said.
McCarthy on Tuesday also announced the list of GOP members he is appointing to serve on the select subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government, with Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan to serve as its chair.
GOP Reps. Dan Bishop of North Carolina and Chip Roy of Texas, who were part of the initial holdouts against McCarthy in the speakership race, also gained spots on the panel. Democrats will have the opportunity to appoint members as well.
The speaker also announced appointments to the select subcommittee on the Coronavirus pandemic, with Greene among the members chosen.
McCarthy expanded both of the select committees, naming more people to the rosters than initially expected due to “overwhelming interest” from members, according to a GOP source familiar. House Republicans will have to put forward a floor resolution to formally amend the ratios, the source added, but doesn’t anticipate it will be an issue.
This story has been updated with additional developments.