U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Livermore) responded last week to newly elected House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's decision to reject him from reappointment to the House Intelligence Committee, defending himself against allegations from the Republican leader while calling the decision an act of "political vengeance" and a repeat of history.
"The new McCarthy looks a lot like the old McCarthy," Swalwell said in a press conference on Wednesday – referring to late Sen. Joseph McCarthy's infamous tenure in the 1950s. "The old McCarthy abused political power to punish and demean and smear his political opponents, and the new McCarthy in Washington is doing the same."
Swalwell was joined by fellow U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D- Minn.), who also responded to allegations from McCarthy and his decision to reject the former from reappointment to chair of the Intelligence Committee, as well as his promise to block the latter from appointment to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Throughout this journey of vengeance, the three of us have chosen to stick together because this isn't about any individual committee assignment, this is about an institution where the speaker of the house is using his power to go after his political opponents and pick them off the field," Swalwell said.
Schiff, who led the first impeachment trial against then-President Donald Trump, has Tri-Valley ties as well, having grown up partly in Alamo and graduated from Monte Vista High School in Danville.
McCarthy was elected as House majority speaker on Jan. 7, following several days of contentious votes and Republican infighting at the outset of the 118th U.S. Congress on Jan. 3, which marked the first time in over 100 years that a speaker was elected past the first day of a new Congress' proceedings.
Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) was elected as minority leader by House Democrats on Jan. 3, following their loss of a majority of congressional seats in last year's general election and the retirement of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-S.F.) as Democratic House leader.
As Speaker of the House, McCarthy -- who has unilateral authority over the House Intelligence Committee -- moved quickly to remove Swalwell and Schiff, reasoning that his national security concerns about the two democrats outweighed their experience and time on the committee in a response to a letter to Jeffries from Jan. 21 requesting that he keep Reps. Swalwell and Schiff on the body.
"I appreciate the loyalty you have to your Democrat colleagues, and I acknowledge your efforts to have two Members of Congress reinstated to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence," McCarthy said in a Jan. 24 letter to Jeffries that he posted on Twitter. "But I cannot put partisan loyalty ahead of national security, and I cannot simply recognize years of service as the sole criteria for membership on this essential committee."
For Swalwell in particular, McCarthy cited an FBI briefing from 2015 that found a woman who served for Swalwell's campaign had been discovered to be a spy for China's Ministry of State Security, leading to House Republicans -- then in the minority -- to call for Swalwell's removal from the committee in 2020 when the news was leaked to Axios.
The national news report by Axios over two years ago stated that Swalwell was not accused of any wrongdoing and immediately cut ties in 2015 when alerted to the allegations against Fang Fang, also known as Christine Fang. Still, Republican critics and conservative media have used the Fang Fang case in efforts to erode Swalwell's credibility.
On Wednesday, Swalwell emphasized that he had been shocked to learn of the potential foreign interference in his 2014 campaign and doubled-down on his stance that McCarthy had political motives behind the decision, rather than national security concerns.
"The claims that Speaker McCarthy has made about me -- that I could never get a security clearance -- Mr. Schiff was also briefed on and supported me staying on the committee because the FBI said three times that all I did was two things: I helped them, over and over, and I was never suspected of wrongdoing," Swalwell said. "
Swalwell added that, with the incident and FBI investigation being years old, speakers prior to McCarthy, along with then-President Trump, had been privy to the same information, yet kept him on the committee.
"Donald Trump at the time had more access to any classified information than anyone here," Swalwell said. "Just like he called out my colleagues here at rallies, he called me out all the time. If he could have embarrassed me to weaponize classified information, you know he would."
McCarthy, who has faced opposition from within his party during and since the process of electing a House speaker earlier this month, is the first Republican to hold the position in four years. Pelosi served as Speaker of the House from January 2019 to January 2023.
As speaker, Pelosi removed Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) from their committee assignments in 2021, following social media posts that appeared to suggest violence against her by Greene and against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) by Gosar. McCarthy returned both congress members to committee service on Jan. 17.
The former House speaker's husband, Paul Pelosi, was hospitalized last October following an attack with a hammer in the couple's San Francisco home. The suspect, David DePape, has pleaded not guilty to the six charges he faces in the pending case.
The attack at the Pelosi home occurred on the same day as an unrelated case in which a Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty to making threatening calls toward Swalwell.
Swalwell, a former prosecutor with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, began his political career as a Dublin City Council member in 2010, and has been in Congress since 2012. He is set to remain in the House through at least 2024 after a resounding victory against Republican candidate Alison Hayden in last year's election.
On Wednesday, Swalwell said that increasing partisan tensions such as those displayed on social media by Greene and Gosar had led to escalating threats of violence and death against himself and other Democratic leaders, and was critical of McCarthy's support for the two Republican Congress members.
"On the intelligence committee the cost is not only breaking, shattering the most precious glassware in the cabinet -- a committee that has always been bipartisan -- the costs are the death threats that Ms. Omar, myself and Mr. Schiff keep getting because Mr. McCarthy continues to aim and project these smears against us, even though we have said publicly these fears are bringing death threats," Swalwell said. "He continued to do it, which makes us believe that there's an intent behind it."
In addition, Swalwell pointed to Greene's apparent support for perpetrators of the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection and recent appointment to the Homeland Security Committee by McCarthy, calling it a "corrupt bargain" with purely political motives.
"The fulfillment of the corrupt bargain with Marjorie Taylor Greene -- somebody who declared on January 5, the day before the attack on the capitol, that this is 1776, somebody who cheered on the insurrectionists, somebody who as we honor the police officers who were injured that day -- she goes to the DC jail to make sure that the insurrectionists are taken care of. First time this person's ever cared about the conditions of a jail are when insurrectionists are inside. She's going on the Homeland Security Committee."
Despite expressing frustrations and concerns about the veracity of the house and its committees under McCarthy's leadership, Swalwell said that he, Schiff and Omar would continue to band together to fight against what they see as destructive moves from the new house speaker.
"We're not going away," Swalwell said. "I think he will regret giving us more time on our hands."