The controversies surrounding Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene are further complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy‘s efforts to unify Republicans in hopes of defeating Democratic legislation and winning back the majority in 2022.
Greene, a freshman lawmaker from Georgia, came under scrutiny as a candidate last year for making racist, Islamophobic comments and speaking favorably about QAnon conspiracy theories. More issues have surfaced since being sworn in to Congress, including her supporting social media posts that discussed killing top Democratic leaders, dismissive comments about school-shooting victims, and spreading a theory that a laser beaming solar energy from space started the 2018 Camp Fire in California. She suggested that Rothschild Inc., which is often the target of anti-Semitic attacks, was among those responsible for the beams, leading to jokes by her critics about Jewish space lasers.
It puts McCarthy, a California Republican, in a tight spot, several GOP strategists said. Punishing Greene too harshly could anger the far-right faction of the party, and being too lenient risks losing support from more mainstream Republicans who want to make it clear they don’t share Greene’s views.
McCarthy, through a spokesperson, called some of her past comments “deeply disturbing” and said he plans to “have a conversation with the Congresswoman about them.”
It comes as corporations have halted donations through their political action committees to members who voted against certifying the electoral vote; as some House Republicans have called for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to step down from her leadership position and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) flew to Wyoming on Thursday to rally against Cheney’s re-election for voting to impeach President Donald Trump; and as McCarthy trekked to Mar-a-Lago to get Trump, who praised Greene during her campaign for Congress, on board to help take back the House next year.
In a statement after his meeting with Trump on Thursday, McCarthy called for a “unified conservative movement.”
House Republicans have been largely muted on Greene. But Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who along with Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, tweeted that Greene “is not a Republican. There are many who claim the title of Republican and have nothing in common with our core values.”
Brendan Steinhauser, a GOP strategist in Texas, said he thinks other Republicans share Kinzinger’s view, but it’s up to the leader of the conference to act.
“It’s a huge problem, which is why McCarthy is trying to deal with it delicately,” he said. Given that a significant portion of GOP voters may side with Greene, “if you’re criticizing her, you’re criticizing them.”
“We need leadership right now,” he added.
Pressure regarding Greene is also coming from beyond the conference.
The Parkland chapter of March for Our Lives, a gun-control advocacy group, is calling on Greene to resign after a video widely circulated of her harassing activist David Hogg, who survived the Parkland school shooting.
Citing her “advocacy for extremism and sedition,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday he plans to introduce a resolution to expel her from Congress. Citing recent reports that Greene claimed two prominent school shootings were a hoax or staged, Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) released a blistering statement Thursday questioning why Republican leadership would seat Greene on his committee, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for her to be removed from it.
“Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy must explain how someone with this background represents the Republican party on education issues,” Scott said.
McCarthy has dealt with controversial statements from his members before. In January 2019, after remarks defending white nationalism, Iowa Republican Steve King was censured on the House floor and stripped of his committees, including the Agriculture Committee seat his constituents saw as critical. He lost in the ensuing primary.
Several Republican strategists said there are key differences between the situations. King made his offending statements as an elected member of Congress. Greene’s alleged offenses were made prior to serving.
Greene has defended herself by saying she’s had a team work on her social media pages over the years and some posts that were liked and shared didn’t represent her views. And in a statement from her office, Greene said Democrats and the media “are coming after me because like President Trump, I will always defend conservative values. They want to take me out because I represent the people. And they absolutely hate it.”
Still, Greene has proven to be a firebrand early in her tenure, filing an article of impeachment against Biden and wearing a mask reading “censored” while speaking on the House floor.
McCarthy’s decision to talk with Greene is a good first step, said Sarah Chamberlain, president of the Republican Main Street Partnership. Chamberlain said Greene’s rhetoric could become an issue for Republicans, but it was far too soon to tell.
“People want us to be at the tenth step. We’re at step one,” she said. “Lets get the facts and then go where the facts take us.”
Other Republicans say McCarthy needs to act with more urgency. Steinhauser said views like Greene’s are “a real concern for a lot of us.”
“He does need to come out strong. There has to be some consequences for this sort of rhetoric and these social media posts she’s done,” he said. “It is hurting the Republican brand.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org