The head of House Democrats has submitted Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) to sit on the powerful Intelligence Committee, setting up a battle with Republican leaders who are vowing to keep them off the panel.
Separately, Democrats this week are also expected to seat Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, according to a source familiar with the Democrats’ plans, which will likely prompt GOP leaders to hold a floor vote to remove her.
In a letter sent Saturday to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence panel, and Swalwell are both “eminently qualified” to continue their service on the committee. Jeffries requested that McCarthy seat them there.
“Together, these Members have over two decades of distinguished leadership providing oversight of our nation’s Intelligence Community, in addition to their prosecutorial work in law enforcement prior to serving in Congress,” Jeffries wrote.
The developments were first reported Monday by Punchbowl News.
Unlike most committees, however, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has special rules empowering the Speaker to assign the panel’s members, in consultation with the minority leader. That means McCarthy can also decline to seat members without relying on a full House vote.
Historically, that process has proceeded without controversy and the minority party’s recommendations have been seated. But Republicans have been up in arms since 2021, when Democrats staged successful votes to remove two Republicans — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (Ga.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) — from their committee assignments. And McCarthy has vowed since then to keep Schiff and Swalwell from returning to the Intelligence panel — a pledge he amplified on Capitol Hill last week.
“What I am doing with the Intel Committee [is] bringing it back to the jurisdiction it’s supposed to do. Forward-looking to keep this country safe, keep the politics out of it,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol.
“So yes, I’m doing exactly what we’re supposed to do,” he added.
Schiff, as former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, had led the investigations into former President Trump’s ties to Russia, and Republicans have accused him of lying to the public during the course of those probes.
In Swalwell’s case, Republicans have highlighted his ties to a suspected Chinese spy who had helped fundraise for Swalwell’s 2014 reelection campaign, which were first revealed in 2020. After the FBI informed Swalwell of their concern, he cut ties with the Chinese national and has said McCarthy’s decision to remove him from the Intelligence Committee is “purely vengeance.”
Schiff also served as a lead House manager for Trump’s first impeachment trial, while Swalwell served as a manager for the second.
Fact-checkers have repeatedly found the GOP accusations to be false. And Democrats maintain that McCarthy’s threats are merely another promise to the conservative detractors who fought to deny him the Speaker’s gavel earlier in the month.
Jeffries, in his letter, sought to carve out a distinction between the scenarios, noting that both Greene and Gosar were removed after revelations that they had promoted violent actions against Democrats, and both votes received some Republican support.
“This action was taken by both Democrats and Republicans given the seriousness of the conduct involved, particularly in the aftermath of a violent insurrection and attack on the Capitol,” Jeffries wrote. “It does not serve as precedent or justification for the removal of Representatives Schiff and Swalwell, given that they have never exhibited violent thoughts or behavior.”
He also pointed out that McCarthy and the Republicans recently gave two committee posts to Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who is under fire for a series of résumé fabrications and questionable campaign finance activities. Jeffries called him a “serial fraudster.”
“The apparent double standard risks undermining the spirit of bipartisan cooperation that is so desperately needed in Congress,” Jeffries wrote.
Under Intelligence Committee rules, rank-and-file members are limited to four cycles — a cap Swalwell has hit — meaning that Jeffries waived that limit in order to force McCarthy to make good on his promise not to seat him. Schiff, as ranking member, is exempt from the cap.
Separately, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee is scheduled to meet this week to finalize the party’s committee rosters, including the expected move to put Omar, one of three Muslim lawmakers in Congress, on the Foreign Affairs panel.
The Minnesota Democrat, a Somali refugee, has been highly critical of the Israeli government and its supporters, particularly on issues related to Palestinian rights, leading to charges of antisemitism. In one 2019 episode, Omar was forced to apologize after suggesting wealthy Jews are buying congressional support for Israel.
Unlike the Intelligence panel, McCarthy cannot block members of the Foreign Affairs Committee unilaterally. GOP leaders are expected to stage a vote to remove her from the panel, as was the case for Greene and Gosar.