The recent  contentious votes to elect the next Speaker of the House were not the embarrassment or threat to democracy the demagogues on both sides of the aisle would have you believe. If anything, it demonstrated that the democratic process of one of the longest-lasting constitutional republics is alive and well, and political partisanship is toxic, even within one’s party. The fiery election of the 118th Congress’ Speaker of the House should be norm-setting and not denigrated as a clown show.
First, going fifteen votes to elect the Speaker of the House did not indicate disunity in the GOP or weakness of that party. If anything, it revealed that numerous representatives were willing to stand in the way of institutionalized bobble-headedness over their convictions and the will of their constituents. Those twenty members demanded certain assurances and prioritization of specific agendas before voting for the preferred future Speaker. Most did not appear to be in line with GOP objectives, talking points, campaign promises, and not unreasonable demands from that ideological perspective.
The Democrats had a similar dustup with the progressive “Squad” in 2018 and 2020, but they did not have the votes to make their resistance more than a publicity stunt. This embattled vote for Speaker should be normative and not an aberration. It might restore the American people’s confidence in the representative government in opposition to the institutionalized bureaucracy, corruption, and elitism of Permanent Washington.
Second, the removal of Adam Shiff (D-CA 30) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA 14) from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HSPCI) is also not the partisan retribution media and political pundits would have you believe. As discussed in previous articles, holding a security clearance and accessing classified materials is a privilege granted to those demonstrating integrity and a dedication to national security. Speaker McCarthy laid out a pretty clear defense of his decision to remove Schiff and Swalwell from the HSPCI and stated that they would be eligible for other committees where they would not have access to classified materials related to national security and intelligence.
Swalwell was an easy call to make and should have never been on the committee if then-Speaker Pelosi had done her due diligence before his appointment, and certainly not after the disclosures of his ties to a foreign intelligence asset. The two primary reasons for security clearance denials and revocations are financial issues and foreign connections. An intimate relationship with a Chinese intelligence asset is exceptionally challenging to mitigate during the adjudicative process. Speaker McCarthy also expressed that there were even more concerns than what the media and other political analysts reported on its facia.
Schiff is far more complicated to justify, but one can sum it up on integrity and ethical responsibilities grounds. First, as Chairman of the HSPCI, he was ethically obligated to treat his role to serve U.S. national security interests and the American people, not Democratic Party narratives, especially false ones. Throughout Russiagate, Schiff routinely presented untrue or misleading information to the public and his congressional colleagues, despite knowing their falsehood. In the weeks leading up to and during former President Trump’s first impeachment, Schiff, again, habitually presented false and misleading information to his colleagues in both houses of Congress and restricted access to witnesses and documents during the “investigation” process. Countless other examples of extreme ideological bias and egoism warrant his removal from the HSPCI and revocation of his clearance.
In closing, the contentious 118th Congress Speaker vote was not the disharmonious and democracy-threatening affair some would have you believe. Despite a few tense moments, it was not the full-on physical brawls seen in the Republic of Korea’s National Assembly (South Korea’s parliament) or Israel’s Knesset. On the contrary, it provided a glimmer of hope that one can and should challenge institutional political bureaucracies to break up the status quo, especially in government.
Similarly, the removal of Schiff and Swalwell was not a retaliatory political act like removing Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA 14) over some controversial tweets. In the intelligence and security industries, the four primary motivators of insider threats are money, ideology, coercion, and ego. Swalwell and Schiff inarguably fall within these categories and should rightly be removed from the HPSCI. Unfortunately, both the Speaker vote uproar and the committee appointments are other examples of political kabuki theater to keep people angry and distracted from more important issues.
Ben Varlese is a former U.S. Army Mountain Infantry Platoon Sergeant and served in domestic and overseas roles from 2001-2018, including, from 2003-2005, as a sniper section leader. Besides his military service, Ben worked on the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq’s protective security detail in various roles, and since 2018, he has also provided security consulting services for public and private sectors, including tactical training, physical and information security, executive protection, protective intelligence, risk management, insider threat mitigation, and anti-terrorism. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies from American Military University, a graduate certificate in Cyber Security from Colorado State University, and is currently in his second year of AMU’s Doctorate of Global Security program.
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