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Democrats are crying foul as House Republicans sort key committee assignments

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., center, with Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., left, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
/
AP
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., center, with Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., left, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.

Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell accused House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of "political vengeance" for blocking the California Democrats from serving on the House Intelligence Committee.

"This is, I think, not an unexpected but nonetheless, destructive move by Kevin McCarthy," Schiff said during a press conference Wednesday morning.

McCarthy rejected a request from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to keep Schiff and Swalwell on the committee. Both members previously served on the panel — with Schiff serving as chair from 2019 to 2022 — and both were involved in the investigations and impeachments of former President Donald Trump.

The move comes as the new Republican majority is outlining its plans and priorities for the session, which include a focus on oversight and investigations of President Biden's administration.

As House speaker, McCarthy has authority to approve or reject spots on the intelligence committee because it is a "select" committee, while positions on standing committees ultimately require a vote of the House. Republicans who support the move cited former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's refusal to seat several members to the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In a letter to Jeffries, McCarthy said the intel committee under Schiff "severely undermined its primary national security and oversight missions — ultimately leaving our nation less safe." On Tuesday, McCarthy cited a report that Swalwell was targeted by a Chinese spy in 2014.

"Those members will have other committees, but the intel committee is different. The intel committee's responsibility is national security to America," he said.

Under new Republican leadership, the House Intelligence Committee is expected to investigate the classified documents found in Biden's Delaware home and Washington, D.C., office, alleged collusion between the FBI and social media companies, the origins of COVID-19 and other politically contentious issues.

Schiff told reporters Tuesday he thinks the move is purely political

While McCarthy argues blocking Schiff and Swalwell is in the interest of national security, Democrats say the move is nothing more than political retribution.

"His objection seems to be that I was the lead impeachment manager in Donald Trump's first impeachment, and that we held him accountable for withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid from Ukraine," Schiff said. "So he is now, I think, carrying the dirty water for the former president in trying to remove me from the intel committee."

But, Schiff added, "if McCarthy thinks this is going to stop me from holding him accountable, holding Donald Trump accountable or any of the extreme elements of his conference, he's wrong."

Schiff is now slated to serve on the House Judiciary Committee, according to a source familiar with the discussions but unauthorized to speak publicly.

McCarthy is also considering a vote to block Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee over her comments on Israel, which drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.

The Democratic-led House voted to strip two far-right GOP members — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona — of their committee assignments in 2021. At the time, then-Minority Leader McCarthy warned Republicans could take similar actions when they regained the majority.

"Once you set the precedent, and we warned them about that, it's likely to happen in reverse," said Rep. Tom Cole, chair of the House Rules Committee. "This is something that Democrats, in my view, brought on themselves."

NPR's Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.