Making good on pledges

Members of Congress are guaranteed very little when voters send them to Washington.

Lawmakers score an office on Capitol Hill. A budget to run their office and pay staff. They are assured the right to vote. Voting is the most seminal responsibility for a Member of Congress. 

Other than that, there are few assurances on Capitol Hill. And that includes committee assignments.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., are now doling out committee assignments to their respective members.

This is especially important to freshmen.

It’s not a big news story that Rep. Jill Tokuda, D-Hawaii., scored a seat on the Armed Services Committee. Or that Rep. Glenn Ivey, D-Md., will sit on the Judiciary Committee.

Important to them, of course. And their constituents. But not terribly newsworthy.

However, committee assignments dictate much of the legislative traffic for lawmakers. It also consumes their time when there are major hearings and markup sessions to write legislation.

Committee assignments are kind of like fraternity and sorority rush on campus. Lawmakers want to make sure they get a ‘bid’ from the committee equivalents of Beta Theta Pi or Chi Omega during rush. Much like college students, lawmakers are despondent if they don’t make the cut.


Two Republican lawmakers are ecstatic that McCarthy reinstated them to their committees. And three Democrats may feel like they got turned down for rush.

McCarthy assigned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to the Homeland Security and Oversight Committees. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., won spots on the Natural Resources and Oversight panels.

The Democratically-controlled House voted to strip Greene and Gosar of their committee assignments in 2021.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers bounced Greene from her committee assignments just one month into her first term. The House sanctioned Greene for promoting conspiracy theories and threatening violence. Greene told the House that she regretted her embrace of conspiracies in the past.

The House voted to axe Gosar from his committee assignments after he tweeted an anime video which appeared to suggest violence toward Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Gosar later removed the video and said he doesn’t back violence ‘towards anyone.’ 

McCarthy is now returning the favor.

The Speaker formally blocked the plan by Democrats to re-assign Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., to the House Intelligence Committee.

McCarthy is empowered to intervene with the Intelligence panel because it’s a ‘select’ committee. Not a garden variety committee. Thus, the Speaker has a say over the appointment of members.

This is what happened in 2021 when former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., nixed two of McCarthy’s picks from serving on the panel investigating the Capitol riot. That panel was also a ‘select’ committee. Thus, Pelosi could dictate who was on or off that panel. McCarthy then withdrew all of his appointees to that committee. Pelosi filled the GOP slots with former Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

However, here’s the rub: Swalwell would have needed what’s called a ‘waiver’ to continue to serve on the Intelligence Committee in the 118th Congress.

Here’s why:

House Rule X, Clause 11 restricts members from specifically serving on the Intelligence panel for more than four Congresses within a window of six consecutive two-year Congresses.

Swalwell was out of time on the Intelligence Committee unless he was granted a waiver.

However, that provision would not apply to Schiff – if he were to be the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Schiff has either chaired or been the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence panel since 2015.

Schiff has now decided to run for the Senate in 2024. Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., hasn’t said if she will seek re-election. However, she’s now 89.

‘If they want to run, run,’ said Feinstein. ‘For me, I just need a little bit more time.’

However, the committee assignment question is different if Republicans attempt to impede Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

McCarthy promised to remove Omar from that panel because of controversial statements the Minnesota Democrat made about 9/11 and anti-Semitic remarks. But the Foreign Affairs panel is a ‘regular’ committee. McCarthy doesn’t control the membership there.

Democrats intend to place Omar on the Foreign Affairs Committee. But it would take a full vote by the House to either block Omar or remove her.

Jeffries will likely send his slate of Foreign Affairs Committee members to the full House for approval. This is usually done via unanimous consent. If no one objects, the members are on the committee. But an objection would torpedo the entire slate of committee candidates for Foreign Affairs along with members for other panels.

So, unless someone objects, the House initially places Omar on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

It then takes a full vote by the House to remove Omar.

This is similar to what happened when the House stripped Greene and Gosar of their committee posts in 2021.

It would take a simple majority of the House to banish Omar from Foreign Affairs.

It comes down to the math.

McCarthy can only lose five members on his side and approve measures without Democratic support.

It’s far from clear if all Republicans would vote to remove Omar from Foreign Affairs. Reps. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., and Ken Buck, R-CO have all said they’re against ousting Omar. Democrats are trying to get Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., and Chris Smith, R-N.J., to oppose Omar’s removal as well.

But Omar made some enemies on the Democratic side of the aisle for her comments. So, it’s unclear if Democrats would stick together and pluck off a few Republicans to keep Omar on Foreign Affairs. 

‘We haven’t had an internal conversation about it,’ said Jeffries. ‘We should be able to put forward a slate of committee assignments which includes Rep. Ilhan Omar on Foreign Affairs.’

Jeffries added that House Republicans should accept the Democratic picks ‘as opposed to a revenge tour as part of some deal that apparently was cut with the extreme MAGA, Republican wing, including the Congresswoman from Georgia.’

For her part, Greene said ‘there’s a big difference’ between Democrats stripping her of committee assignments in 2021 and the goal of Republicans now. Greene said Democrats bumped her from committees ‘for things that I had said or social media posts before I ever ran for Congress.’

Greene said ‘it’s the wrong stance for any Member of Congress having that type of attitude and statements towards our great ally Israel.’

McCarthy moved against Schiff and Swalwell and their committee assignments because he could. However, Omar’s fate isn’t as clear.

And Republicans will soon face a challenge on making good one of their pledges were they to secure the House majority.

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