“I will not support this charade”: Kevin McCarthy bleeding GOP support to kick Dems off committees

Indiana Rep. Victoria Spartz urged McCarthy to stop with the circus and “start governing for a change”

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published January 25, 2023 9:09AM (EST)

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a news conference outside of his office at the U.S. Capitol on January 24, 2023 in Washington, DC.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a news conference outside of his office at the U.S. Capitol on January 24, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Some House Republicans on Tuesday pushed back on Speaker Kevin McCarthy's, R-Calif., decision to refuse to seat certain Democrats on committees.

McCarthy formally blocked Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., from continuing to serve on the House Intelligence Committee, which he can do unilaterally, and is expected to hold a floor vote to boot Rep. Ilham Omar, D-Minn., off the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"I appreciate the loyalty you have to your Democrat colleagues," McCarthy wrote in a letter to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. "But 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," he added.

McCarthy has cited a "new standard" from Democrats for why he would remove the Democrats from the committees after the Democratic-led House in 2021 removed Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., from their committees for inflammatory rhetoric about Democrats. Both far-right Republicans have since been appointed to new committees in the GOP-led House. Schiff, meanwhile, was removed for pushing allegations about former President Donald Trump's ties to Russia and Swalwell was removed over an alleged past relationship with a Chinese spy. Omar was targeted over criticism of U.S. policy on Israel that Republicans called antisemitic.

"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," McCarthy said in his letter.

Though McCarthy can single-handedly block Schiff and Swalwell from the Intel panel, he needs his party's support to kick Omar off the foreign affairs panel. Some Republicans condemned McCarthy's move on Tuesday.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., told CNN the plan to remove the Democrats would be "terribly corrosive" to relations in the House.

Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., said she would not support the removal of the Democrats.

"Two wrongs do not make a right. Speaker Pelosi took unprecedented actions last Congress to remove Reps. Greene and Gosar from their committees without proper due process. Speaker McCarthy is taking unprecedented actions this Congress to deny some committee assignments to the Minority without proper due process again," she said in a statement. "As I spoke against it on the House floor two years ago, I will not support this charade again. Speaker McCarthy needs to stop "bread and circuses" in Congress and start governing for a change."

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., already vowed last month that she is "not going to support it" and Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., said at the time that removing Omar from the committee would be "inappropriate."

Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, told Axios on Tuesday that Omar "should at least be given the opportunity to defend her prior statements" criticizing U.S. policy towards Israel.

"I haven't taken a position on it because I haven't seen a case against her, but I think she's entitled to due process and she should be able to make her case on why she shouldn't be [removed]," he told the outlet.

Compounding McCarthy's problem with dissenting Republicans is the absence of Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., who is expected to be out of commission for several weeks after he broke his pelvis and suffered other injuries in an accident at his home.  

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"I appreciate these Republican members speaking out against what McCarthy is doing," Schiff told CNN. "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. These efforts are not at all bipartisan. Indeed, the opposition to it is bipartisan."

Schiff, who will continue to sit on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters that the move shows McCarthy is "just catering to the most extreme elements of this conference."

Swalwell, who will sit on the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, called the move "political vengeance."

"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," Swalwell told CNN, adding that "if a Democrat advocated for violence against another member of Congress, I would support getting rid of them."

Omar said earlier this month that McCarthy has no reason to boot her from the panel "outside of me being Muslim."

A coalition of Jewish groups released a statement last month backing Omar, rejecting the "suggestion that any of her policy positions or statements merit disqualification from her role on the committee."

"McCarthy's pledge seems especially exploitative in light of the rampant promotion of antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories by him and his top deputies amid a surge in dangerous right-wing antisemitism," the groups added.

The three Democrats targeted by McCarthy released a joint statement on Tuesday saying it was "disappointing by not surprising" that the speaker "capitulated to the right wing of his caucus, undermining the integrity of the Congress, and harming our national security in the process."

"He struck a corrupt bargain in his desperate, and nearly failed, attempt to win the Speakership, a bargain that required political vengeance against the three of us," the statement said. "But despite these efforts, McCarthy won't be successful. We will continue to speak out against extremism and doggedly defend our democracy."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Adam Schiff Aggregate Eric Swalwell Ilhan Omar Kevin Mccarthy Politics Victoria Spartz