WASHINGTON — Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries tapped Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell on Monday to continue serving on the House Intelligence Committee, taking on a long-awaited battle with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has vowed to prevent the pair from taking 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 GOP speaker, is off to a rocky start.
Members of the Intelligence panel are selected differently than other congressional committees because it is a “select” committee. As speaker, McCarthy has the power to elect a chairman and Republican members of the panel. Jeffries, as Minority Leader, can nominate Democrats to serve on the panel, but McCarthy has the power to reject them.
In numerous remarks to the press, McCarthy has promised to do just that in retaliation for actions by his predecessor, former Chair Nancy Pelosi, and Democrats in the last Congress. He has specifically targeted Schiff and Swalwell, who played key roles in the impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump.
“It is my understanding that you intend to break with the longstanding House tradition of deferring to the recommendations of the Minority Party’s Intelligence Committee and denying seats to Deputy Member Schiff and Representative Swalwell,” Jeffries wrote in a letter to McCarthy, saying he officially nominated the two Democrats.
“Denying seats to duly elected members of the House Democratic Caucus goes against the serious and level-headed mission of the Intelligence Committee,” he continued.
Punchbowl News was the first to report on Jeffries’ letter.
Two years ago, Democrats voted to take the rare step of removing ultra-conservative delegates Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., from their committees after Greene made racist and anti-Semitic remarks in posts on social media and Gosar tweeted an animation depicting 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 given that they have never engaged in any violent thoughts or behavior,” Jeffries wrote.
Also in 2021, then-Speaker Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy’s picks — GOP Representatives 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 nominated two Republicans to serve alongside the Democrats.
Those actions angered McCarthy, and for months he vowed to keep Schiff and Swalwell off the intelligence panel. Schiff served as the Democrats’ chief prosecutor during the first impeachment, while Swalwell was one of the impeachment managers during the second impeachment, focusing on Trump’s role in the attack on the Capitol.
As late as Jan. 12, McCarthy told reporters he would not put Schiff and Swalwell, who regularly antagonize McCarthy during cable news appearances. McCarthy specifically called out Swalwell, citing Axios reporting that the Democrat was one of several California politicians targeted by a Chinese spy.
“Are you telling me other Democrats couldn’t fill that spot?” McCarthy asked reporters. “He cannot get security clearance in the private sector. So will you give him permission from the government?
Swalwell has said he cooperated with the FBI in investigating the spy and did nothing wrong. In a recent interview on MSNBC, Swalwell called McCarthy’s threats against him nothing more than “political revenge.”
A separate battle could soon ensue over a third Democrat, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. After Republicans regained control of the House in November, McCarthy said he would push for Omar to be removed from the State Committee “on the basis of her repeated anti-Semitic and anti-American remarks.”
But removing Omar from the State Department, which is not a select committee, would require a vote of the full House of Representatives, similar to how Greene and Gosar were removed.
Omar is a Somali refugee and one of the first two American Muslim women to serve in Congress. She accused McCarthy and the GOP in a statement following McCarthy’s threats.
“McCarthy’s attempt to berate me repeatedly for scorn and hatred… gin[s] fueling fear and hatred against Somali-Americans and anyone who shares my identity, and further divide us along racial and ethnic lines,” Omar said.
In his Monday letter, Jeffries also took the opportunity to charge “serial fraudster” Rep. George Santos, RN.Y., for sitting on committees when Democratic members could lose their seats.
“The apparent double standard threatens to undermine the spirit of bipartisan cooperation so badly needed in Congress,” Jeffries wrote.