Opinion: McCarthy committee’s revenge could pose a serious risk | CNN
Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) a former producer and correspondent for CNN, is a world affairs columnist. She is a weekly opinion contributor for CNN, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this comment are my own. See more opinions on CNN.
With the war in Ukraine becoming more tense by the day, and the United States playing a critical role in preventing Russia from succeeding in its efforts to win an unprovoked war, one could be excused for thinking that the new leadership in the House of Representatives of the US rein in its impulses to politicize some of the most sensitive areas of foreign policy. But none of that is happening.
Anyone worried that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will find it difficult to follow a moderate course after having to compromise with the most extreme members of the GOP to win the seat, their fears were confirmed this week when McCarthy announced that he would exclude key Democrats from the crucial House Select Committee on Intelligence.
On Tuesday, the speaker announced that he was decline the appointment former chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, as well as Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, to the committee. It’s no coincidence that the two played major roles in the two impeachment trials against former President Donald Trump, without whose support McCarthy probably wouldn’t have the speaker’s gavel.
McCarthy tried to paint the decision as one of security-conscious, altruistic patriotism. But it was precisely the opposite of that. The newly elected speaker couldn’t run away from his own registered revenge vows.
A year ago, he promised that if the Republicans became a majority, they would remove Schiff, Swalwell and Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from their committees, in revenge for what the Democrats had done.
“Never in history has the majority told the minority who might be on the committee,” McCarthy complained at the time.
It is true that the Democrats, with the support of some Republicans, removed Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona from their committees. But that was due to inflammatory and violent statements by Rep. Greene, such as supporting the execution of prominent Democrats, agreeing with comments calling the 2018 Parkland, Florida high school shooting a “false flag,” among others. She later retracted those comments, saying that in 2018 she was “upset about things” and she felt she couldn’t trust the government. As for Rep. Gosar, the House voted to censure him and remove him from committees over a photoshopped anime video he posted to social media that showed him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.
To complicate matters for both of them, Greene and Gosar, election deniers who have embraced all kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories, used their social media accounts to fan the flames that resulted in the storming of the US Capitol in the coup attempt on January 6.
But McCarthy wants this pre-announced payoff to look like statecraft.
It is worse. By targeting the Intelligence Committee, you are making this partisan game that much more dangerous.
The committee had a tradition of bipartisanship, key to the fulfillment of its functions, until the arrival of Trump and the tensions caused by the news that Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections to try to help him get elected, an issue that the committee necessarily had to face.
It also had to dig into Ukraine’s desperate plea for more US weapons to fend off Russia’s attack. Trump threatened to withhold funds from Ukraine by asking President Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019 to “do us a favor” and announce an investigation of Joe Biden, a man who correctly assumed he could defeat him in 2020.
These were legitimate issues for the committee. So much so, that Trump’s self-serving mishandling of relations with Ukraine resulted in his first ever impeachment.
The Intelligence Committee deals with some of the most sensitive information; some of the most sensitive issues of national and international security. It’s the wrong place for partisan games.
McCarthy knows it. He said so in his letter explaining his decision to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. “I cannot put partisan loyalty before national security,” he said, adding in bold font, “Integrity matters more.”
Integrity is a word McCarthy should use sparingly, especially in the context of committee work. McCarthy is giving prime seats to his new ally, Greene, who initially made a name for herself by her embrace of QAnon’s deranged ideas, from which she later distanced herself, and has spewed out a flurry of outrageous statements, including the suggestion that Jews have used space lasers to start forest fires. She later distanced herself from these comments as well. But McCarthy is also assigning committee duties (plural!) to the mind-blowing liar: the new congressman, George Santos of New York.
Then, of course, there are the signs of his own fragile integrity. Who can forget her denunciation of Trump from the House floor on January 6, immediately followed by a contrite pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago. He reminds me of Groucho Marx and the famous quote: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
There’s the moment when he strenuously denied a New York Times report that, at a GOP leadership meeting after the Jan. 6 attack, he said Trump should resign. The Times report, he said, “is totally false and incorrect.” But, my God, there was a tape where he said exactly that.
Defending his decision to reporters, McCarthy accused Schiff of lying to the American people “about laptops.”
Schiff had dismissed stories about the contents of a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, the president’s son, as disinformation. The former head of the intelligence committee was also criticized for witlessly paraphrasing the call between Zelensky and Trump. But in his letter, the Speaker justified his decision by accusing Schiff of abusing his position as committee chair and making the country “less safe.”
Schiff, who announced Thursday that he would run for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s upper house seat in 2024, doesn’t buy McCarthy’s justifications. “For Kevin McCarthy,” he said, “the cardinal sin appears to be that I led the prosecution of his Master in Mar-a-Lago”, and added: “He will carry out the orders of the former president… and this is something that the former president wants.”
As for Swalwell, McCarthy justifies himself by alluding to the case of a Chinese spy who had developed ties to California politicians, including Swalwell, a decade ago. After being tipped off by the FBI, Swalwell says he cut ties with her. Two years ago, Schiff told colleagues that the matter was discussed with Republican leaders in 2015 and that they had no objection to Swalwell serving. That, of course, was before he became one of Trump’s leading accusers.
Because the Intelligence Committee is “selected”, the rules allow the speaker to choose or remove members. For other committees, you need a majority of the House’s votes. That is why her efforts to remove Omar – who has made statements many considered anti-Semitic, some of which she later apologized for – from the Foreign Affairs Committee would be more difficult.
“[A]As we enter a new Congress,” McCarthy wrote to the Democratic leader, “I am committed to returning the Intelligence Committee to one of genuine honesty and credibility that wins back the trust of the American people.” Unfortunately, at the worst possible time, during a time of rising global tensions, it is doing just the opposite.