UPDATE: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that Democrats will bring to the floor a resolution to strip Greene of her committee assignments. “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 wrote on Wednesday. “The Rules Committee will meet this afternoon, and the House will vote on the resolution tomorrow.”
Original story below.
“Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” the Senate’s most powerful Republican said in a statement on Monday, a week after several reports laid out the extent of Greene’s deranged beliefs. “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. This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.”
Forgive us if we have a hard time believing McConnell actually cares about any of this. If he did, he would have explicitly called for Greene’s removal from Congress. At some point over the past four years, he also would have called for the ouster of Trump, whose “loony lies and conspiracy theories” are a large part of why Greene is in Congress. They’re also what led to a violent insurrection at the Capitol that left five dead, as well as untold thousands who have died from Covid-19 after the president said they had nothing to worry about. McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party were just fine with all of this. In many cases, they were doing all they could to legitimize the president’s delusions.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who voted against certifying the election results and against impeaching Trump following the insurrection, is also concerned. Last week, one of his spokespeople said Greene’s comments were “deeply disturbing.” On Wednesday, he met with her. McCarthy is under pressure to act from House Democrats, led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who have presented an ultimatum: strip Greene of her committee assignments, or they’ll bring the issue to the House floor. Considering McCarthy spent the end of last week in Florida kissing Trump’s ring, it’s probably unlikely he’s going to do much on his own to rebuke one of the former president’s most fervent supporters in Congress.
But if McCarthy is as concerned about Greene as his spokesperson says he is, it’s not like he hasn’t already demonstrated the ability to take action against one of the party’s own.
It wasn’t that long ago when McCarthy met with a fellow member under similar circumstances. In January of 2019, he sat down with then-Rep. Steve King, an avowed Trump supporter long considered to be the most overtly racist member of Congress, after King told the New York Times that he didn’t understand why so many people considered terms like “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” offensive. McCarthy wasn’t having it. “That is not the America I know,” he said of King’s comments. “It is most definitely not the party of Lincoln.”
McConnell, too, was appalled. He even mentioned King by name, which he failed to do in his statement about Greene on Monday. He also suggested King shouldn’t be in Congress, which he neglected to do regarding Greene. “Rep. King’s statements are unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position,” McConnell said in a statement at the time. “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work.”
King claimed his comments were taken out of context, but it didn’t matter. McCarthy went on to formally reprimand him, stripping him of his committee assignments. It was ultimately a fatal blow for King, whose influence on the Agriculture Committee was invaluable to his constituents in rural Iowa.
King was a powerful figure within the party, and was once considered a kingmaker for GOP presidential candidates ahead of the Iowa caucuses. A few months after King got sidelined, when I was reporting a story about King for Rolling Stone, I talked to several of his allies in Iowa. They were incensed over McCarthy’s actions, attributing them to “virtue signaling” coming from people who didn’t understand King or the people he represented. Those condemning him were RINOs cowing to pressure from a liberal media hell-bent on destroying King’s reputation. “Kevin McCarthy better not step his foot in northwest Iowa,” Mark Leonard, chairman of the Ida County GOP, told me.
In the traditional sense, Greene is far less influential than King. She’s only been in Congress a few weeks, doesn’t sit on any powerful committees, and isn’t able to work the backrooms to move votes on legislation. The problem is that none of this stuff matters anymore, especially not to Greene. She’s not in Congress to sit on committees and hammer out legislation. She’s there to troll. In fact, kicking her off her committees would only make her more powerful. It’d burnish her anti-establishment bonafides and rally an entire nation of QAnon-crazy Trump loyalists against McCarthy. She already started turning the gears by tweeting about how “the real cancer for the Republican Party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully” shortly after McConnell rebuked her. “This is why we are losing our country,” she added.
King tried to work the same routine after he was stripped of his assignments, but the only people who cared were his friends in northwest Iowa. If McCarthy were to take action against Greene, he’d risk alienating the entire base of voters the Republican Party has spent the past four years debasing itself to court. King was an expendable relic of an obsolete political power structure. Greene and the people she represents could be crucial to the future of the party in an increasingly left-leaning nation where it’s going to become more and more difficult to win elections the old-fashioned way.
The party still seemed to subscribe to old-fashioned way of doing things when it rebuked King. McCarthy’s move to do so in 2019 came just two months after Republicans lost control of the House. Trump spent the months leading up to the 2018 midterms doing all he could to drum up fear over caravans of criminal migrants crossing the border, and stripping King of his committee assignments was seen as an acknowledgement that public, frothing-at-the-mouth racism maybe isn’t the best way to go about courting voters.
But there was no such course correction after Trump lost in November. The GOP doubled down by diving deeper into the president’s delusions, supporting his effort to overturn the election and then effectively brushing off the significance of the deadly riot at the Capitol that resulted. In failing to hold themselves accountable, Republicans are effectively condoning all of this, which means it’s only going to get worse. As we’ve seen, it’s a slippery slope. They accepted birtherism, then they accepted Trump, then they accepted QAnon, then they accepted overthrowing democracy, then they accepted a deadly infiltration of the Capitol. It’s frightening to consider the next thing the party will have to rationalize after it accepts a clearly unhinged members like Greene who believe Democrats should be executed.
Almost just as concerning is the degree to which Democratic leadership still doesn’t get it. Pelosi, whom Greene pretty clearly feels should be executed for treason, said last week that Greene should be removed from her committees — but she didn’t call for her expulsion. The ultimatum Hoyer delivered McCarthy on Monday implies that he’d be satisfied with a similar slap on the wrist. These Democrats failing to call for Greene’s removal are essentially playing the same game as McConnell, trying to come out of this with, above all else, a PR victory to hang their hats on, something they can spin as a political win.
But as we learned with horrifying clarity on January 6th, the legitimization of Greene’s conspiracy theories that comes with her seat in Congress is a clear and present danger to the lives of her colleagues, and to democracy itself. The only remotely reasonable response from anyone who cares about these things is to forcefully, emphatically call for her expulsion. The time for symbolic rebukes is over.