The trio of Democrats whom House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has targeted for removal from committee assignments offered a unified rebuke in a joint interview on CNN that aired Sunday.
Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, who were stripped of their positions on the House Intelligence Committee, and Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, whom McCarthy is seeking to oust from the House Foreign Affairs panel, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that the California Republican’s actions were nakedly partisan.
“This is some Bakersfield BS,” Swalwell said in the interview, referring to the speaker’s hometown. “It’s Kevin McCarthy weaponizing his ability to commit this political abuse, because he perceives me, just like Mr. Schiff and Ms. Omar, as an effective political opponent.”
Schiff similarly cast their ouster as “all pretextual” and a result of McCarthy “catering to the most extreme members of their conference.”
“And I don’t accept the premise that this has anything to do with the conduct of any of the Democratic members. This is merely the weakness of Kevin McCarthy’s speakership, that he’s so reliant on these extreme members,” Schiff said.
McCarthy has cited a “new standard” from Democrats for why he was stripping Schiff and Swalwell, both fellow Californians, of their Intelligence Committee assignments.
The speaker said in a letter to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries that it was his “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.” He said he wants the panel to be one of “genuine honesty and credibility that regains the trust of the American people.”
McCarthy specifically targeted Schiff over his handling of the first impeachment of then-President Donald Trump. Among other things, McCarthy said: “Adam Schiff openly lied to the American public. He told you he had proof. He told you he didn’t know the whistleblower.”
Yet there is no evidence for McCarthy’s insinuation that Schiff lied when he said he didn’t know the anonymous whistleblower who came forward in 2019 with allegations – which were subsequently corroborated – about how Trump had attempted to use the power of his office to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, then a looming rival in the 2020 election.
“Apparently he believes I was very effective in exposing his misconduct, Donald Trump’s misconduct. And that’s what they’re trying to stop,” Schiff told Bash. “So, I think that he benefits from having these smears repeated. And that’s part of what he gains from it. But this is a pretext, and nothing more.”
Swalwell, meanwhile, rebuffed GOP claims that he shared sensitive information with a suspected Chinese spy – a charge McCarthy has repeatedly put forward.
“There’s nothing there,” the California Democrat said, noting that the FBI has relayed that “all I did was help them, and, also, I was never under any suspicion of wrongdoing.”
McCarthy was able to use his authority as speaker to unilaterally keep Schiff and Swalwell off the Intelligence panel because it is a select committee. Ousting Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee would require a vote of the full House. If all Democrats vote to oppose the move, it would only take a handful of GOP critics to block McCarthy from moving forward, given House Republicans’ razor-thin majority.
Asked Sunday about her past comments, which were condemned by both sides of the aisle as antisemitic, Omar noted that she had apologized and said she’s hopeful that any vote against her as a result of those comments will fall short.
“I might have used words at the time that I didn’t understand were trafficking in antisemitism. When that was brought to my attention, I apologized, I owned up to it. That’s the kind of person that I am,” the Minnesota Democrat said.
“What I do know is that the two Republicans that have been public and some that have privately said that they are not going to vote to remove me are doing so because they don’t want to be seen as hypocrites,” she added.
Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana said last week that she opposed the push to strip the three Democrats of their committee assignments, stressing the importance of ethics probes before taking disciplinary action against any elected member of Congress. South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace has said she has concerns about the resolution to oust Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee. A third Republican, Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, has told NBC News he was “opposed to … the removal of Congresswoman Omar from committees.”
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told MSNBC on Sunday that she expects more than five Republicans to vote against removing Omar and suggested “it may never come to a vote” as a result.
“I just want to applaud the Republicans who are doing the courageous thing. And listen, when people are public, and they say publicly that they’re going to vote no – like my friend Ken Buck – courage begets courage. And hopefully this means that others, the dam will break, others will feel like they also can say that they’re going to vote no,” Jayapal said.
This story has been updated with additional reaction.
CNN’s Sarah Fortinsky contributed to this report.