House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday condemned Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s open embrace of conspiratorial theories and racist views but criticized a drive by Democrats to remove her from her committees, signaling he would not yield to a bipartisan outcry to punish her.
McCarthy, in a statement, also suggested he would reach no agreement with Democrats, who planned a House vote Thursday to remove her from her committees.
McCarthy, R-Calif., said Greene’s comments “caused deep wounds.” He said the first-term congresswoman from Georgia recognizes that she must now hold herself to a higher standard than when she was a private citizen and said he would hold her to that “going forward.”
But McCarthy also tried to push blame onto Democrats, criticizing them for doing nothing about their own lawmakers, including one who he said he “spread anti-Semitic tropes.” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., made comments critical of Israel in 2019 for which she apologized.
McCarthy’s statement came after Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said the chamber would vote Thursday on removing Greene from her committees. Taken together, the comments intensified the stakes over Greene’s online embrace of conspiracy theories and calls for violence against Democratic politicians.
Greene isn’t the only Republican House member under fire. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney is facing blowback for her decision last month to vote to impeach President Donald Trump, and some Republicans want her to lose her leadership position. Cheney and Greene have found themselves in the position of antagonizing opposing wings of a Republican Party struggling to define itself without Trump in the White House.
House Republicans, under bipartisan pressure to punish Greene, had been hoping to act on their own — such as removing her from one of her two committees — and avoid a difficult political vote. It would force them to go on record defending or punishing a social media savvy lawmaker who has the enthusiastic support of Trump.
But Hoyer’s statement said that after he spoke to McCarthy, “it is clear there is no alternative to holding a floor vote on the resolution to remove Rep. Greene from her committee assignments.”
Greene herself was showing little sign of backing down. “No matter what @GOPLeader does it would never be enough for the hate America Democrats,” she tweeted early Wednesday. She has previously spread unfounded QAnon pro-Trump conspiracy theories and calls for violence against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Republicans had appointed Greene to the Education and Labor Committee, a decision that drew especially harsh criticism because of her suggestions that school shootings in Connecticut and Florida could be hoaxes. She’s also on the Budget Committee.
It is unusual for party leaders to strip lawmakers of committee assignments, which can help them address their districts’ needs and raise campaign contributions.
In 2019, House GOP leaders removed Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who had a history of racist comments, from the Agriculture and Judiciary panels after wondering aloud in a New York Times story about when the term “white supremacist” became offensive. He lost the Republican primary for his seat in 2020 and is out of Congress after serving nine terms.
Meanwhile, House Republicans planned a closed-door meeting later Wednesday in which Cheney’s political fate could be decided. The GOP’s farthest right wing was itching to oust Cheney, a leader of her party’s traditional conservatives and a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The strife underscores Republican fissures as the party seeks a path forward two weeks after Trump left office as the only twice-impeached president. House Republicans are effectively deciding whether to prioritize the former president’s norm-shattering behavior and conspiracy theories and retain the loyalty of his voters over more establishment conservative values.
The handling of Greene and Cheney presented a tricky balancing act for McCarthy. The eight-term lawmaker is hoping to become speaker should Republicans capture the House majority in the 2022 elections and has little interest in antagonizing any GOP colleagues.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a statement on Monday praising Cheney as “a leader with deep convictions and courage.” In a statement Tuesday that didn’t use Greene’s name, the usually circumspect McConnell called her “loony lies” a “cancer” on the GOP.
McCarthy has long been close to Trump. But he’s been criticized by some Republicans, mostly quietly, for relentlessly supporting Trump’s fallacious claims of a fraudulent election in November and for not forcefully criticizing Trump for helping provoke the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters.
Meanwhile, Cheney’s foes have said they have enough votes to force her removal from her leadership job.
But it was unclear Wednesday whether that vote among GOP lawmakers would occur or if McCarthy would somehow delay that showdown. McCarthy has said he supports Cheney but also has “concerns,” leaving his stance on her unclear.
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