Republican Liz Cheney kept her leadership post in the House Wednesday, surviving a secret vote by other Republicans on a day in which the GOP was riven by a debate over how to reconcile Trump loyalists and conspiracy theorists with those who have stood up against the former president.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy struggled to contain the growing conflict in the weeks leading up to Wednesday, which played out in the battles over the fates of Cheney and backbencher Marjorie Taylor Greene.
McCarthy, a California Republican, was caught between outrage among many Republican lawmakers over former President Trump’s leading role in sparking a violent attempt to overturn the 2020 election on Jan. 6, and the anger of Trump supporters in the House conference that anyone would seek to hold the former president accountable. Ten Republicans, including Cheney, joined Democrats in impeaching Trump on Jan. 13.
As has been his trademark approach to politics, McCarthy has tried to find ways to please everyone, and in the process seemed to irritate many. But he ended the day Wednesday by standing up for Cheney, who kept her post in a secret vote by a vote of 146-to-61, and McCarthy claimed the party was united.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, McCarthy said that he had privately reprimanded Greene, the conspiracy theorist freshman House member from Georgia, for her promotion of lies about staged school shootings, her endorsement of violence against Democrats and her anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. McCarthy also suggested moving Greene from one committee to another, rather than taking her off both of the committees — education and labor — she has been named to.
Democrats said they would call a vote on Thursday to remove Greene from the committees, a move that could put every House member on the record on the issue. Even as McCarthy tried to minimize the damage of Greene’s comments by changing the subject to comments by Democrats, several Republican senators added severe condemnations of Greene.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., didn’t hold back in condemning Greene’s past remarks.
“It’s beyond reprehensible for any elected official, especially a member of Congress, to parrot violent QAnon rhetoric and promote deranged conspiracies like the Pentagon wasn’t really hit by a plane on 9/11. It’s not conservative, it’s insane,” Tillis said.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said that Greene’s past comments about the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 were “disgusting” and “wrong.” Green had suggested that the massacre was staged and went on to harass survivors who lobbied Congress to change gun laws.
Scott, who himself voted to overturn the 2020 election results only hours after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, is overseeing the Senate Republicans campaign arm this election cycle. He has been at pains to distance the GOP from Greene and her association with the Qanon conspiracy cult and has repeatedly said this week that she doesn’t represent the party.
But McCarthy’s failure to remove Greene from her committees sent a mixed signal on that front. It certainly did not send a clear signal of condemnation, especially when Greene herself was raising money off the effort by Democrats to oust her, claiming that she was being punished “because I stood up for President Trump” rather than because of her endorsements of violence and conspiracy theories. In a Wednesday meeting with House Republicans, Greene attempted to distance herself from some of her past comments, saying that the school shootings were “real and awful,” then apologizing for having subscribed to some QAnon conspiracy theories.
Those remarks appeared good enough for McCarthy and many of the Republicans in attendance, many of whom gave Greene a standing ovation.
McCarthy’s waffling on Greene, however, represents an opportunity for Democrats to sully the GOP’s reputation as the party of conspiracy theories, which they are eager to do. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent out a press release Wednesday referring to McCarthy as the congressman from the Q party, rather than from the Republican Party.
“And now 200ish Republicans will vote against this resolution and with [Greene]. A great look,” tweeted Brendan Buck, who worked for two Republican House speakers.
A Republican strategist this week told Yahoo News Greene’s lightning-rod profile could hurt Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections if she is not condemned and rejected. Referencing one of the conspiracy theories that Greene has speculated about in the past, the strategist said: “There is no path back to the majority if our candidates are explaining Jewish space lasers next fall.”
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