House Republicans were forced to go on the record Thursday afternoon about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) when the lower chamber voted on partisan lines to remove her from her two committee assignments.
The vote comes after days of back-and-forth between party leaders, as Democrats have pushed for consequences for the first-term representative, who has supported or suggested, in no particular order: the QAnon conspiracy theory; Parkland and 9/11 denial; the killing of Democratic leaders; and the idea that 2018 forest fires were started by a Jewish-controlled space laser.
The removal vote — which passed 221-211, with all Republicans opposed — could be a watershed moment for both parties, but particularly the GOP. House Republicans effectively weighed in on the future of their party, and whether it welcomes lawmakers like Greene and the supporters they bring.
But it also could be a pivotal moment in the House’s institutional politics.
Disciplining members is a rare tactic, and practically unheard of for comments made before being elected. During debate, Republicans warned that Democrats were opening a “Pandora’s box” of majority tyranny, while Democrats maintained that Greene’s comments represent a uniquely unacceptable situation.
Today’s vote is all but settled. But both parties would have some control over whether it’s a one-off in Congress’s history or a signal of what’s to come.
The vote is another battle in the ongoing wrestling between the establishment wing of the Republican Party — represented by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have sought to distance the party from former President Donald Trump and Greene — and the pro-Trump, conspiracy-embracing right flank, which includes QAnon supporters, election deniers, and a significant number of House Republicans.
In a closed meeting of House Republicans Tuesday night, Greene privately apologized for how her statements may have hurt fellow Republicans, stating that 9/11 and school shootings did happen and saying she embraced QAnon during a dark period of her life but has since moved forward. In a display of just how embedded she is in the House GOP, she received a standing ovation.
Of course, Greene is still fundraising off of her controversies — she says she has raised $175,000 — and had yet to address the controversies publicly until speaking on the floor Thursday during debate over the resolution. She expressed “regret” over her posts supporting 9/11 and school shooting denial, but did not mention her previous anti-Semitism, racism, or suggestions that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be killed.
Greene also blamed tech companies for enforcing “cancel culture” by taking “teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, that any of us, and portray us into something we’re not,” and said the media is “just as guilty as QAnon” in promoting lies.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the chair of the House Rules Committee, spoke with increasing exasperation as the debate went on, saying he had yet to hear an apology from Greene and expressed shock that such a weak explanation warranted a standing ovation from Republicans.
If @SpeakerPelosi was the minority leader, she would pull every identity politics trick in the book to defend her member.
White, Woman, Wife, Mother, Christian, Conservative, Business Owner
These are the reasons they don’t want me on Ed & Labor.
It’s my identity & my values.
— Marjorie Taylor Greene (@mtgreenee) February 3, 2021
Now, Republicans must weigh the pressures associated with the vote. On the one hand, establishment leaders have condemned Greene. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been hammering Republicans over Greene, already releasing ads in vulnerable Republican districts linking some moderates to the controversial representative.
“Do (House Republicans) want to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, free markets, peace through strength, and pro-life, or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon?” Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the second-ranking Senate Republican, said on CNN.
On the other hand, Trump still wields enormous influence over the party and its base. He has reportedly embraced Greene, and she has explicitly tied herself to the former president, making a vote against her a potential repudiation of Trump and all he represents.
In the middle of it all is McCarthy, who tried to unify his caucus in that closed-door meeting, standing behind Cheney and Greene both. He has condemned Greene’s statements but taken no action against her.
In a statement condemning Greene’s anti-Semitic theories and embrace of violence, McCarthy picked a scapegoat he is betting his whole caucus can agree on: Democrats. And by voting unanimously to unsuccessfully keep Greene on her committees, it’s clear his gamble worked.
Democrats say Greene’s comments are so egregious that it warrants taking such historic action, and that if Republicans had stepped up and taken care of it themselves — as both parties have previously done with errant members — the vote would be unnecessary. They are particularly bothered by Republican leadership’s decision to place her on the Education Committee, despite her comments about the Parkland shooting and harassment of survivor David Hogg.
But Republicans say Democrats are playing with procedural fire, opening the door to a tit-for-tat escalation where the majority party is free to punish members of the minority with whom they disagree.
“I understand that Marjorie’s comments have caused deep wounds to many, and as a result, I offered Majority Leader [Steny] Hoyer a path to lower the temperature and address these concerns,” McCarthy said in a statement. “Instead of coming together to do that, the Democrats are choosing to raise the temperature by taking the unprecedented step to further their partisan power grab regarding the committee assignments of the other party.”
McCarthy’s comment is a warning shot to Democrats that if they pursue committee removal, Republicans could dictate minority assignments if they take the majority back in 2022. It also provides cover to House GOP members to say they are voting to support Greene purely to keep Democrats from abusing their power as the majority.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) embraced that argument speaking on the floor during debate.
“The matter we are faced with is bigger than any one individual member,” he said. “It’s about how we as an institution will continue to function in the future. I fear that if we open this particular Pandora’s box, we will not like what happens next.”
Asked whether she’s concerned about the precedent being set with the Marjorie Taylor Greene vote, Pelosi responds:
“No, not at all. If any of our members threatened the safety of other members, we’d be the first ones to take them off of a committee. That’s it.”
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 4, 2021
Both parties would have control over whether that becomes the case or not. It would be an active choice on the part of both Democrats and Republicans (next time they hold the majority) to target members of the other party.
Already, a group of House Republicans sponsored a retaliatory amendment to remove progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from her committee assignments. The move has no political chance in a Democratic House, but sends a clear, though disingenuous, message about punishing supposed “extremism.” As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp has written, comparing the most left-wing Democrats with Greene draws a false equivalency between embracing socialist policies seen in peer democracies and suggesting a cabal of Jews are creating natural disasters from outer space.
Democrats, for their part, say the action is uniquely inspired by the circumstances of a member encouraging violence against another member — a stance McGovern said was “not a radical idea” and only unprecedented in that Greene’s party refused to take action.
They were committed to imposing consequences on Greene, with some members even advocating for censure or expulsion.
“The party of Lincoln is becoming the party of violent conspiracy theories,” McGovern said during debate over the resolution. “And apparently the leaders of the Republican Party in the House, today, are not going to do a damn thing about it.”
Thursday’s vote is the culmination of a week of negotiation between McCarthy and Hoyer since the newest batch of Greene scandals came to light.
Pressure mounted on McCarthy to take action after Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) began creating the resolution to expel Greene from committees. His promise to meet with her was insufficient for House Democrats. On Monday, Hoyer gave McCarthy 72 hours to strip Greene of her committee assignments — as Republican leadership had eventually done with former Rep. Steve King for repeated white supremacist comments.
McCarthy called Hoyer with a counteroffer: He would move Greene from the Education Committee to a different committee if Democrats agreed to drop the resolution. Hoyer said no, and the Rules Committee moved forward with the resolution, voting to bring it to the floor.
Republican leadership discussed potential committee moves for Greene, but ultimately McCarthy decided to let it go to a vote, effectively signaling he — and the members he leads — would defend Greene’s place in the party.
The caucus also voted to keep Cheney in the leadership by a vote of 145-61-1 on a secret ballot, demonstrating the pull both wings of the party exert on members.
If Trump’s departure from the White House reignited the GOP civil war, McCarthy has made his position clear: The Republican tent is plenty big enough for his detractors — and for QAnon supporters and conspiracy theorists, too.