Politics

Who Got What They Wanted?

Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar have their committees back. But others were less fortunate.

An illustration of Marjorie Taylor Greene, George Santos, Matt Gaetz, and Paul Gosar playing musical chairs.
Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo/Slate. Photos by Win McNamee/Getty Images, John Bazemore-Pool/Getty Images, John Bazemore-Pool/Getty Images, and Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The appointment of various members of Congress to various seats on committees—something that happens at the start of each new Congress—is typically not that interesting of a process. But then, this is not a typical Congress.

Republicans, back in the majority, are seeking to reinstate the committee assignments for two members, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom Democrats had stripped of their assignments in the previous Congress. (Republicans are also looking for revenge by stripping a few Democrats of their assignments). And some members are fresh off of a very public standoff in which they used certain committee seats as a cudgel to bend McCarthy to their will in exchange for supporting him for speaker.

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To be clear, committee assignments aren’t officially set yet, even though we’re a few weeks into the new Congress. First, the leaders of the respective parties have to cut a deal on committee ratios, and then each party’s respective steering committee decides who goes where. That’s where we are now. Next, each respective party caucus and conference will approve their steering committees’ recommendations, and then the whole House has to sign off on them too.

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But with most of the steering committee recommendations in, let’s look at some of the notable placements.

Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene are back.

For a long time, the House majority wouldn’t fiddle with the minority’s committee selections. But they always could. After all, a majority can do whatever it wants with 218 votes. Twice in the last Congress, then, Democrats took a step that was unprecedented in modern times: They voted to strip two separate members of the minority from their committee assignments for incidents they found beyond the pale.

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In February of 2021, barely into the new Congress, all Democrats (and 11 Republicans) voted to strip Greene from two committee assignments for a series of dingbat stunts and amping of conspiracy theories that occurred mostly before she got to Congress: “liking” Facebook posts about shooting then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, dabbling in 9/11 trutherism, and confronting school shooting survivors.

Nine months later, Gosar was removed from his committees—and censured—for posting an anime video in which he was depicted killing New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Biden with swords. (Gosar and AOC, interestingly, were spotted having a floor conversation during this month’s speakership ordeal.)

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McCarthy pledged that each of these members of Congress would get their committee assignments back if Republicans retook the majority. They ran with that information in different ways. Greene became one of McCarthy’s most loyal allies as he sought to corral the votes for the speakership, while Gosar was one of the 20 holdouts who didn’t come around to McCarthy’s side until the 12th ballot.

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It didn’t appear to make a lick of difference. Gosar was still restored to the same committees from which he was removed—Natural Resources and Oversight. Greene also landed on Oversight, the committee that has wide latitude to investigate and make a spectacle of the Biden administration, as well as on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over happenings at the southern border. Neither of Greene’s committees are going to produce major bipartisan legislation that unites America. But they will hold many televised hearings during which Greene can yell at Biden administration officials.

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What of the other McCarthy-speaker-vote holdouts?

There was a time, oh there was a time, when junior, backbench members wouldn’t dare deny the speaker-in-waiting the gavel, because they knew they’d be lighting their careers on fire. That time was pretty recent. Former Rep. Kathleen Rice, for example, tried to topple Pelosi ahead of the 2019 speaker’s vote. She failed at that, and then was mysteriously unable to secure the spot on the Judiciary committee for which she considered herself next in line.

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Nowadays, Republican leaders would get in trouble with right-wing media if they tried to mete out consequences to annoying people. (That last sentence better explains the previous decade of politics more than anything else I’ve written.) So instead, several of the holdouts appear to have been rewarded with prized seats on so-called “A” committees, which are highly sought. Texas Rep. Michael Cloud and Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, both holdouts, won seats on Appropriations, while Tennessee Rep. Andy Ogles and Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, whom the holdouts nominated on numerous speakership ballots, will serve on Financial Services. Six of the holdouts will be on Oversight, and several others on Judiciary—the two prime spots for people who just want to heckle Joe Biden.

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One line that was not crossed, though, was giving holdouts the specific committee or subcommittee chairmanships they asked for. Maryland Rep. Andy Harris reportedly wanted control of a powerful Appropriations subcommittee controlling health spending. He got a different subcommittee gavel. And Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz reportedly wanted a subcommittee chairmanship on Armed Services. He didn’t get it.

George Santos won seats on the Siberia committees that meet in Siberia.

There was some outrage from Democrats that Republicans would deign to give assignments to George Santos, who’s in the midst of a scandal in which he appears to have made up much of his life story. (This could have consequences beyond mere political shame.) The committees to which he was assigned, though, aren’t universally recognized as power centers in the United States Congress. He will sit on the Small Business and Science, Space and Technology committees. Even if something “cool” does come along in science (which Santos invented, didn’tcha know?), he’ll be too junior on the committee to have any say in it. Oh well! He shouldn’t have made up so many lies.

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Did McCarthy punish any House Republicans?

There is one guy who thinks McCarthy screwed him. Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan lost the race to chair the Ways and Means Committee—the “A”-est of the “A” committees—to Missouri Rep. Jason Smith. Per Puck’s reporting, Buchanan blamed McCarthy for siding with Smith and walked up to McCarthy on the floor to say, “You fucked me, I know it was you, you whipped against me.” Buchanan, a rich guy with a private plane who has better things to do than this, has reportedly been mulling retirement if he’s not going to chair the committee. And that’s part of why McCarthy moved this contested chairmanship decision until after he had Buchanan’s vote for speaker.

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Which Democrats are Republicans planning to kick off of committees?

McCarthy has sworn he will make good on a promise to remove California Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, two villains of the Fox News universe, from their seats on the Intelligence committee in retaliation for their roles in Trump investigations. McCarthy also plans to boot Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs. McCarthy could remove Schiff and Swalwell unilaterally as Intel is a select committee. Omar’s removal from a standing committee would have to be done by House vote.

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What about the Rules committee?

This is the big one we’re still waiting to see. McCarthy, as speaker, has the ability to appoint Republican members of the Rules committee, which sets the parameters for floor consideration of most major legislation. The speaker’s control of this committee, which he typically stocks with the most loyal of allies, is a fundamental part of the speaker’s control of the House. According to reporting of the deal McCarthy struck with far-right holdouts, though, conservatives in the Freedom Caucus (or fellow ideological travelers) are supposed to get three seats on the Rules Committee.

This has the potential to be one of McCarthy’s most meaningful concessions. The breakdown on the Rules Committee is typically nine speaker-controlled warm bodies to four members from the minority. Giving three seats to the Freedom Caucus could leave McCarthy with only 6 remote-controlled McCarthy stans—i.e., a minority. McCarthy has yet to make his appointments here beyond the chairman, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, but it’s worth paying close attention to the specific hardliners he lets in.

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