House Intel members look for ‘reset’ after partisan era of Schiff, Nunes
The House Intelligence Committee will get a facelift this Congress following the booting of its former chairman and the retirement of a prior ranking member — a drastic makeover that’s prompting internal hopes that the panel can move beyond the partisan battles that have practically defined it in recent years.
The committee launched the last Congress with Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) at the helm, two national — and highly polarizing — figures whose epic battles, waged predominantly over issues related to former President Trump, came to symbolize the panel’s shift from a rare bastion of bipartisan cooperation to an arena of partisan warfare.
This year, there may be a turnaround.
Nunes retired from Congress last January to lead the Trump Media & Technology Group, the former president’s social media company. And this week, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blocked Schiff from sitting on the panel, accusing the former chairman of lying to the public about Trump’s ties to Russia.
Schiff’s eviction drew howls from Democrats, who denied the charges and rushed to his defense. But amid the protests, even some Democrats acknowledged that both Schiff and Nunes had become so radioactive in the eyes of the opposing party that it became a drag on the work of the committee.
With that in mind, committee members of both parties are hoping the roster reshuffling will turn a page on that combative era and return the panel to its historic image as a largely collaborative body.
“We’re hoping it’ll be a reset, and we can get past all the infighting … and just focus on national security,” said a source familiar with the committee dynamics.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who was first seated on the panel in the last Congress, echoed that message, saying the new chairman, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), is making improved relations a priority as he takes the gavel.
“That’s the goal,” Gallagher said. “I think we’ve got really good, thoughtful members. We’ve got the right leadership in Turner. And we’re trying to get back to that more bipartisan approach.”
In denying committee seats to Schiff, along with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), McCarthy claimed their exit would help move the panel in a less partisan direction — something the two Democrats and their allies deny.
“I think what McCarthy is doing is actually quite the opposite,” Schiff said.
“He’s politicizing the committee. No Speaker has ever sought to interfere with who the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee should be. Certainly, [Former] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi had many differences with Devin Nunes, but she has a reverence for the work of the committee and Kevin McCarthy evidently doesn’t.”
Members of both parties pointed to Nunes’s departure, at the start of last year, as the beginning of improved relations on the panel.
“We entered a new chapter after Nunes left. It really changed with Turner, a ton. And so I suppose maybe from their side they think that something is going to change on our side without Schiff and Swalwell. Perhaps? But I really thought everything changed for the better once Nunes was gone. We were very collegial,” said one Democratic source familiar with the panel’s innerworkings.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), an eight-year veteran of the Intel Committee, cautioned against pinning the panel’s problems on any one person.
“I don’t want to say, ‘Yeah, the committee is going to work beautifully now because those two are gone,’” he said of Schiff and Swalwell, “because that would be unfair, and it wouldn’t be accurate. So I don’t want to indicate that the committee didn’t work, or was more political, only because of them.”
Still, Stewart also said it was “fair” to say Nunes contributed to the panel’s combative environment — a dynamic he blamed on the charged atmosphere of the Trump years, which also featured Schiff playing lead manager of Trump’s first impeachment.
“Devin was associated with those very contentious times just like Adam Schiff was associated with those very contentious times. I don’t think it was necessarily Devin, I think it was the two leaders who had to navigate through those tough times,” he said.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), another member, agreed that the impeachment era soured the committee’s dynamic, though he contributed the deterioration largely to the Republicans’ defense of Trump.
“Whatever my own view is, obviously, the committee became enormously polarized, which is pretty unusual. When we moved on [after] Ukraine, it already started to repair itself. You know, Devin Nunes moved on,” Himes said. “Mike Turner, in my opinion, has always been a fair actor.”
Turner declined to talk this week.
The full roster of the committee remains unclear. While Republicans have named their members — including new additions that include Reps. Dan Crenshaw (Texas), Michael Waltz (Fla.) and French Hill (Ark.) — Democrats are waiting for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) to make his accompanying selections.
“A lot will depend on that,” said Gallagher. “But I hope that Leader Jeffries looks at who we’ve appointed … and responds in-kind with, not just bomb-throwers, but solutions-oriented types.”
McCarthy’s refusal to seat Schiff has created a vacuum at the top of the Democrats’ roster — a void that virtually every committee Democrat is hoping to fill.
Pelosi (D-Calif.), had she remained the leader of the party, was set to appoint Himes to the position, according to several Democrats familiar with her plans. But others are also expressing interest, including Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.).
Jeffries, however, has given no indication either who he’ll pick or when he’ll announce it.
As the committee comes together, members say they’re not expecting to avoid partisan fights altogether. Gallagher pointed out that the panel will have to tackle a number of prickly topics this Congress — including the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — which are sure to lead to partisan clashes.
But those are issues-based differences, he emphasized, not collisions of personality. And Gallagher said he’s established a good rapport with some of the newer Democrats on the panel, including Reps. Jason Crow (Colo.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.), who has co-sponsored legislation with Gallagher to ban TikTok in the United States.
“Those younger members and I have a really good working relationship,” Gallagher said. “We just hope to build on that.”
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