Politics

House Democrats Prepare to Punish Marjorie Taylor Greene

Republicans face a choice between offending their base and defending a bigot.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene leaves her office at the U.S. Capitol on February 03, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene leaves her office at the U.S. Capitol on February 03, 2021 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Hours before a House committee was scheduled to take up legislation stripping Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, eager to protect his party from a difficult vote, presented Democratic leaders what he believed to be a compromise option. Rather than remove Greene from both the Budget and the Education and Labor committees to which she had just been named, McCarthy would reassign her from the latter to the Small Business Committee. He planned to make his pitch in a call Wednesday with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

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McCarthy’s offer earned an unfavorable reception. “I spoke to Leader McCarthy this morning, and it is clear there is no alternative to holding a Floor vote on the resolution to remove Rep. Greene from her committee assignments,” Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon. “The Rules Committee will meet this afternoon, and the House will vote on the resolution tomorrow.”

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There’s more than administrative housekeeping to the looming vote on removing Greene—the QAnon admirer who has entertained offensive conspiracy theories about the Parkland and Sandy Hook school shootings, Jewish space lasers, and “Frazzledrip” (just click), as well as having liked posts calling for “a bullet to the head” of Speaker Nancy Pelosi—from committees. Democrats are forcing the post-Trump administration Republican Party onto the record about what kind of party it is, at a time when that’s a tense, unsettled topic of discussion among Republicans themselves.

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Senate Republican leaders believe the moment is important enough in defining the party’s future to weigh in on the affairs of their House counterparts, a group senators consider beneath them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week about Greene that “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country.”

“Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality,” McConnell added. “This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.”

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For a lot of House Republicans in safe districts who are up for reelection every two years, though, Greene’s status as a fighter against the elites resonates with GOP primary voters, as well as with Donald Trump, and so do many of her “loony lies and conspiracy theories.” Neither they nor their leaders want to take a vote that pins them between appeasing the base and recapturing the House, a tension that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will exploit over the next two years.

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Since McCarthy’s efforts to preempt the vote failed, House Republicans’ best option, as it so often is for those in a political squeeze, is to latch onto procedural complaints. Some of them—how dare we circumvent the Ethics Committee—don’t have much juice. More worthy of debate, however, are two questions of precedent being set here: whether someone is in violation of the House rule to “behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House,” as the resolution suggests Greene is, for comments made mostly before she was a member, and whether it’s dangerous for a majority to remove minority members from their committee assignments.

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“I’ve sat on the Republican Steering Committee for many years,” Rep. Tom Cole, the GOP ranking member of the House Rules Committee, said Wednesday afternoon during debate over the measure. “I’ve had to make these tough decisions about removing members from their committee. Haven’t hesitated to do that. I think that’s a function that goes with those jobs. I do worry, a lot, about the precedent of another party choosing to do it.”

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Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, the committee chairman, noted that while some of Greene’s most objectionable comments came before she was sworn in, “she’s doubled down on it. She’s fundraising off of this stuff as we speak. She tweeted, ‘I won’t back down and I will never apologize.’ For all these things.”

“If the precedent is going to be,” he added, “that if somebody advocates putting a bullet in the head of a member of Congress, and if that is going to be the new determination as to what it takes to throw people off committees, I’m fine with that. I’m fine with that.”

Hoyer, in a press call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, argued that Greene’s behaviors since she entered Congress “have been consistent” with her prior “hostile” rhetoric and actions, “and she has placed many members in fear for their welfare.”

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“We believe she also gave aid and comfort to those who led an insurrection” against the Capitol, he said.

In terms of the precedent of the majority removing minority members from their committee assignments, Hoyer said he viewed the Greene transitions as sui generis.

“I’ve been in the Congress for 40 years. I can’t remember—I’ve thought about it—any situation that I believe is analogous to what Ms. Greene has done before and after her being elected to the Congress of the United States,” he said. “I don’t think this is a precedent, because I think the fact pattern that exists is an extraordinary fact pattern, and apparently Ms. Greene has no intention of modifying her behavior.”

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The last high-profile punishment by committee-removal came in the last Congress, when Republicans finally lost patience with Iowa Rep. Steve King’s white supremacist rants. Hoyer felt that McCarthy needed to take at least the internal action he took against King against Greene. “The language she has used, in many respects,” Hoyer said, “goes far beyond the remarks that Steve King made through the years.”

Even if Greene is stripped of her committees, as it appears she will be, that won’t solve Republicans’ Marjorie Taylor Greene Problem in the way in solved their Steve King Problem. King was a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, which allowed him to deliver for his district. Once he lost that perch, primary voters recognized that his racism had effectively ended his ability to serve them. Greene’s strength doesn’t, and won’t, derive from her committee assignments. It may even be preferable to have no committee assignments than to be a junior member on the minority of the House Budget Committee—at least you’d have time to run your errands and do a little livestreaming. The removal won’t chasten her, and she’ll still have a Twitter account, floor privileges, a vote in the United States Congress, and plenty of campaign cash. A “cancer on the Republican Party” isn’t excised through normal treatment.

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