GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to play his partisan cards — and just folded

Just what passes as Republican ideology other than saying “No” has become massively unclear

Published March 29, 2021 5:19PM (EDT)

Kevin McCarthy   (Getty/Jim Watson)
Kevin McCarthy (Getty/Jim Watson)

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There was another skirmish on the floors of Congress this week that made no sense other than the endless outpouring of partisanship.

This time it was a vote forced by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), to drop Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, from the House Intelligence Committee. The conflict was about allegations that a Chinese spy had raised funds for Swalwell's congressional campaign  in 2015. The measure lost, with all Democrats and Republicans voting on party lines.

It's not a vote that would change anything. Speaker Nancy Pelosi would appoint a potential replacement.

Apart from the idea that it was a futile effort if you are the minority party, it was simply a partisan slap that follows the pattern of knocking the other guy.

But in this case, the underlying thought – that a foreign power is trying to have an influence on choosing our leadership – struck as particularly galling. Remember we just had that declassified national security assessment that Russia, and to a lesser degree, Iran, had a huge campaign under way to use our legislators and members of the Donald Trump campaign team to funnel disinformation to the American public.

Those figures include Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who openly talked loudly about information fed him by an identified Russian agent Andrei Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking minority Intelligence Committee member, for work to spread disinformation about then-candidate Joe Biden and family. Both Johnson, who also has repeatedly offered his racist defense of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and Nunes, who has opposed Biden's certification as president, remain active in their public damnations on behalf of Trump.

These people have drawn no response from McCarthy.

I'm not big on "whataboutism" as tit-for-tat partisanship is termed, but the coincidental timing here seems unusually gross.

The Swalwell Case

McCarthy sponsored his resolution to oust Swalwell over the fact that he has not denied "public reporting that a suspected Chinese intelligence operative helped raise money" for his campaign and helped interns seek potential positions in his congressional office. Since the fall, McCarthy has targeted Swalwell, one of the Trump impeachment managers, after Axios published information about Swalwell's relationship six years ago with a suspected Chinese operative known as Fang Fang or Christine Fang.

According to the story, Swalwell was among several California politicians reportedly pursued by Fang, who did fund-raising work for his campaign and was photographed alongside Swalwell at a political function and reports that they had dated. When the FBI reported its suspicions in 2015, Swalwell cut off contact.

House leaders were  told in 2015, and Swalwell was allowed to serve on the Intelligence Committee. There was another review with McCarthy and Pelosi last year, with opposing views from the two.

McCarthy charged that based on what has been publicly reported, Swalwell "cannot get a security clearance in the private sector" — and thus had no business being on the intelligence panel.

"Only in Congress could he get appointed to learn all the secrets of America — that's wrong," McCarthy told reporters. "If you can't meet that bar, you shouldn't be able to meet a bar to serve on the intel committee." McCarthy tweeted out a picture of the form upon which individuals are required to disclose relationships with foreign nationals.

Hmm. Then what are we to make of Johnson and Nunes, their staff members and non-congressional figures.

Figures include:

  • Michael Flynn, who served as national security adviser despite foreign entanglements
  • Paul Manafort, Trump campaign chair despite his foreign contacts
  • Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who did not always report contacts with foreigners

Republican Outliers

Naturally, Swalwell and Democratic defenders noted that McCarthy failed to mention that Swalwell changed his behavior after the FBI alert to him. The same cannot be said of Johnson, Nunes and the others.

Of course, all this may be in response to the vote by Democrats and 11 Republicans last month to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from two committees for her extremist QAnon ideologies and threats to other members of Congress. A new effort was introduced yesterday to oust her altogether.

McCarthy wrote on Twitter that "Every Democrat is now on the record. They chose politics over national security."

Well, yeah, as Republicans have been doing as well. These guys seem to do so on every question, real or not.

A dozen Republicans voted this week to oppose honoring police from the Capitol and the city for defending the Capitol on Jan. 6 because the resolution contained the work "insurrection."

Then, yesterday, 172 Republicans voted against renewing the so-called defense against violence to women act. They found the bill unneeded even in the week following the shooting of two men and six women massage parlor workers in Georgia. The act did have an anti-gun ownership clause for boyfriends found guilty of domestic violence.

Just what passes as Republican ideology other than saying "No" has become massively unclear.

Even on a straight partisan basis, how does knocking Swalwell off this committee make anyone more likely to vote Republican than Democratic?

What has been gained here? If anything, shouldn't we thank Swalwell for heeding an FBI alert and ask why Johnson and Nunes  continued to carry water for identified Russian agents despite intelligence warnings? How does anything in all this help with coronavirus, economy, the border, education, environment or anything that we actually care about?

By Terry H. Schwadron

MORE FROM Terry H. Schwadron

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