10 min read

House GOP settles into the majority

George Santos receives his committee spots, while far-right Republicans are rewarded with plum assignments.
House GOP settles into the majority
(McCarthy's office)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, January 18, 2023. The 2024 elections are 657 days away.

Today’s theme is the House GOP. I’ll start off with the latest news on the Republican committee assignments, just divvied out yesterday, and then round up some other headlines on the new majority.

And then, I’ll answer a related reader question on Speaker McCarthy’s ability to singlehandedly boot Democrats from House committees.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been trying to incorporate more reader questions in the newsletter. As always, let me know if you’ve been liking them and send in a question if you have one. And if you appreciate the work I do answering reader questions, it’s always appreciated in turn if you donate to support the newsletter.

If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

MTG, Gosar, Santos land committee spots as House GOP settles into majority

Two weeks after moving into the majority, the House Republican Steering Committee gathered on Tuesday to assign committee spots to GOP members. Here are some notable postings:

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who were stripped of their committee assignments for extremist and violent rhetoric during the Democratic majority in the last Congress, are being reinstated on committees.

Both right-wing lawmakers were named to the Oversight and Accountability Committee; Greene will also be added to the Homeland Security Committee, while Gosar will be rejoining the Natural Resources Committee.

They won’t be the only conservative firebrands on the Oversight Committee. Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), and Scott Perry (R-PA) — each of whom opposed Kevin McCarthy for at least the first 11 speaker ballots — were also assigned to the panel. Perry is chairman of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus.

Together with Greene and Gosar, those additions ensure that some of the GOP’s farthest-right members will have a major megaphone on the panel coordinating investigations into President Joe Biden and his administration. “Joe Biden, be prepared,” Greene said in a statement. “We are going to uncover every corrupt business dealing, every foreign entanglement, every abuse of power.”

Lauren Boebert and other McCarthy holdouts received plum committee assignments. (Gage Skidmore)

In fact, few of the holdouts who initially voted against McCarthy were punished with unfavorable committee assignments, as a more powerful speaker might have done in another era. NBC has the full lineup here, which includes coveted spots on committees like Appropriations, Financial Services, and Judiciary for the holdouts.

Finally, Rep. George Santos (R-NY) was given two committees, despite Democratic calls for him not to receive any assignments after being uncovered for lying about almost every element of his résumé. Santos was named to the Small Business Committee and the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

According to CNN, he had requested Foreign Affairs and Financial Services but was rejected from both higher-profile committees as several GOP chairmen “balked” at him joining their panels. “I don’t condone what he said, what he’s done,” Rep. Roger Willams (R-TX), the Small Business chair, told the network. “I don’t think anybody does. But that’s not my role. He was elected.”

George Santos received committee posts despite his extensive lies. (Santos campaign)

Altogether, the new committee assignments reflect that there is little Republican members won’t be able to get away with in the new Congress, as McCarthy must keep everyone in his slim majority happy if he wants to maintain his fragile grip on the speakership.  

They can have voted against McCarthy. In the cogent phrasing of Punchbowl News, they can have “trafficked in election denialism, violent conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and white supremacy,” as members who received plum spots on the Oversight panel have done. And they can have made up most of their life story, as Santos has done.

Just on Tuesday, hours after he was named to two committees, another damning story about Santos came out, this one in the local news site Patch. The headline: “Disabled Veteran: George Santos Took $3K From Dying Dog’s GoFundMe.” The veteran alleges that Santos (then going by Anthony Devolder and running a supposed pet charity) set up a GoFundMe for the veteran’s sick dog and then made off with the money it raised.

The veteran has contemporaneous texts, tweets, and Facebook posts to support his account, although Santos denies the story.

Kevin McCarthy can only keep the speaker’s gavel if he keeps the more extreme elements of his conference happy. (McCarthy’s office)

More House GOP headlines

  • As the debt ceiling fight escalates, the White House is calling on McCarthy to “come clean” on all the spending concessions he promised conservatives to get the speaker’s gavel.
  • Senior House Republicans are “moving swiftly” to prepare for possible impeachment proceedings against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
  • Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, the top two congressional Republicans, are seen as polar opposites — in style, but also in their responses to Donald Trump and right-wing members. The Washington Post has more on their relationship.

Ask Gabe: Can McCarthy kick Dems off of committees?

Q: Can you explain how Kevin McCarthy, as Speaker, can lawfully remove, without cause, Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from their committee posts? Do these Representatives or the Democrats have any recourse? What’s to prevent McCarthy from removing any other Democrat of importance or high visibility from his or her committee assignment? — Frank A. from New York, NY

A: Speaker McCarthy has indeed threatened to remove these three House Democrats from their committees: Schiff and Swalwell from the Intelligence Committee, and Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee. The two committees work slightly differently, so let’s take them one by one to explain how McCarthy is able to do this.  

We’ll start with Schiff and Swalwell, since those removals will be easy. The panel commonly referred to as the House Intelligence Committee actually has a longer name: the “House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,” or HPSCI. Most House committees are standing committees, which means they have a certain legislative jurisdiction and carry over from Congress to Congress. Select committees, on the other hand, are usually temporary and have a narrower focus, which is often more investigative than legislative in nature.

As a permanent select committee, the Intel panel is something in between: it doesn’t need to be renewed each Congress, but it is still technically a select committee. And one thing that is true of all select committees, as per the House Rules, is that their members are selected by the House speaker. Usually, the speaker defers to the minority leader to choose minority party members — but the speaker still gets final say over both parties’ picks.

That’s how McCarthy will be able to give Swalwell and Schiff the boot, which he says he will do because of Swalwell’s ties to a suspected Chinese spy and Schiff’s handling of the first Trump impeachment. “He put America...through an impeachment that he knew was a lie,” McCarthy said of Schiff last week; “If you got the briefing I got from the FBI, you wouldn’t have Swalwell on any committee,” he added. (The FBI has publicly said Swalwell is “under no suspicion of wrongdoing.”)

Kevin McCarthy plans to pull Adam Schiff from the House Intelligence Committee. (Gage Skidmore)

Omar, on the other hand, McCarthy cannot remove on his own. Foreign Affairs is a standing committee, so the speaker himself doesn’t get a veto. But the members of all committees — standing, select, or otherwise — still have to be ratified by the full House.

Now that Republicans made their committee selections on Tuesday, the House will vote on both parties’ picks once Democrats have made theirs. The standing committee picks of each party are generally approved in two separate resolutions, so if Democrats do put forward Omar for Foreign Affairs (as is expected), McCarthy could then try to get Republicans to sink the Democratic resolution. As with any vote, if all members are present, he would only be able to afford losing the support of four Republicans.

He could also take the route Democrats used to remove MTG and Paul Gosar from their committees, pushing through separate resolutions later that kick off an individual member. Again, he would need all but four Republicans to stand united. McCarthy plans to oppose Omar for Foreign Affairs because of her past comments condemned by leaders of both parties as anti-semitic.

Because Democrats haven’t chosen their committee choices, neither the House vote on Omar nor a McCarthy veto of Schiff and Swalwell have come into play yet, but I wanted to walk through these processes because both showdowns are expected soon.

Ilhan Omar could face a rejection by the full House over her committee assignments. (Gage Skidmore)

One more thing: What’s to prevent McCarthy from trying to remove other Democrats from their committees? Nothing. But it’s important to note that, by deploying these tactics, McCarthy is following precedents set by Nancy Pelosi.

The January 6th committee was also a select panel, and Pelosi used her power as speaker to reject two Republican picks for that committee, just as McCarthy says he’ll do with Schiff and Swalwell. Similarly, under her leadership, Democrats passed resolutions stripping both Gosar and Greene of their committee assignments.

The resolutions were in response to social media posts from both lawmakers calling for or depicting violence against Democrats, as well as for a slew of racist and anti-Semitic comments. Before the Pelosi era, House votes to remove members from committees generally only came in response to criminal investigations or charges.

“Remember, this is what Nancy Pelosi [did],” McCarthy said last week, depicting his committee rejections as a continuation of her tactics. “This is the type of Congress she wanted to have.”

Nancy Pelosi set the precedents for the moves Kevin McCarthy plans to make. (Gage Skidmore)

More news you should know.

UKRAINE: The U.S. is “tapping into a vast but little-known stockpile of American ammunition in Israel” to assist Ukraine in its war with Russia, the New York Times reports. The stockpile, usually used for conflicts in the Middle East, will replenish Ukraine as it runs low on artillery.

  • The top U.S. and Ukrainian military chiefs met for the first time face-to-face in Poland on Tuesday, days after the U.S.’ new, expanded combat training for Ukrainian forces kicked off in Germany.

IN THE STATES: Democrat Wes Moore will be sworn in today as the governor of Maryland. Not only will Moore be the state’s first Black governor, he will be the only Black governor currently serving in the U.S. and only the third ever elected in U.S. history.

  • A first-time officeholder previously known for being the bestselling author of “The Other Wes Moore,” the new governor is already being discussed by top Democrats as a future presidential candidate.
Wes Moore will take office today as a history-making governor. (State of Maryland)

BIDEN DOCS: The Justice Department considered having FBI agents monitor the recent search for classified documents at President Biden’s homes, but decided against it to “avoid complicating later stages of the investigation” and because Biden’s lawyers have cooperated with the probe, per the Wall Street Journal.

  • Biden’s personal lawyers conducted the searches, although a White House lawyer was also present at one of the document handoffs. The White House has already been hit by an ethics complaint for the government lawyer’s involvement.

2024: Former President Donald Trump is planning to hold the first public event of his 2024 campaign: a rally in South Carolina later this month with Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Trump has rarely left Mar-a-Lago in the two months since announcing his third White House bid.

  • No other candidates have yet emerged to announce bids for the GOP nomination, with few Republicans wanting to be the first out of the gate against Trump. Politico has the latest on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) — perhaps Trump’s most formidable possible rival — as he attempts to rebut critiques that he’s too aloof for the Oval Office.
Lindsey Graham will join Donald Trump for his first 2024 campaign event. (Gage Skidmore)

What your leaders are doing today.

All times Eastern.

Executive Branch

President Biden has nothing on his public schedule other than receiving his daily intelligence briefing.

Vice President Harris has nothing on her public schedule.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing. Watch at 3 p.m.

Legislative Branch

The House and Senate are on recess until next week.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, the case of a deaf student suing his Michigan school district for failing to provide him with a qualified sign language interpreter. Listen to oral arguments at 10 a.m.

Before I go...

Here’s some good news: The U.S. cancer mortality rate has dropped by a third in the past 30 years, a new report from the American Cancer Society says. More details, via the Wall Street Journal:

“The American Cancer Society said Thursday that changes in preventive measures and screening in the past decade drove important trends in U.S. cancer incidence and outcomes. Cervical cancer rates dropped 65% from 2012 to 2019 among women in their early 20s after a generation of young women were vaccinated against human papillomavirus, or HPV, for the first time.”

Click here to keep reading.

Thanks for reading.

I get up each morning to write Wake Up To Politics because I’m committed to offering an independent and reliable news source that helps you navigate our political system and understand what’s going on in government.

The newsletter is completely free and ad-free — but if you appreciate the work that goes into it, here’s how you can help:

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe