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House Republican leader punts on punishing Marjorie Taylor Greene as Democrats move toward removing her from committees

Posted February 3, 2021 12:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 3, 2021 5:33 p.m. EST

House Democrats move toward removing Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees as GOP leader attacks Dems

— House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy broke his silence on Wednesday over the uproar caused by freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's conspiracy theory views, suggesting Republicans would not move to strip her from her committee assignments, effectively forcing Democrats to take action on their own.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, made the first move toward stripping Greene of her roles on two important House committees after speaking with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday.

"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 in a statement. "The Rules Committee will meet this afternoon, and the House will vote on the resolution tomorrow."

Hours later, McCarthy answered Hoyer's action by announcing no new repercussions for Greene with a statement that amounted to a slap on the wrist for the first-term Republican and spent more time criticizing Democrats than her past comments questioning if the Pentagon was struck by a plane in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, advocating for the assassination of top Democrats or calling a high-profile school shooting a "false flag" operation.

McCarthy said in a statement on Wednesday that Greene's past statements "do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference." But he did not announce any sanction against Greene, instead saying he would "hold her to her word" that she would be more careful with her comments going forward.

McCarthy's statement mostly attacked Democrats for Hoyer's move to strip Greene of her committee assignments.

"I understand that Marjorie's comments have caused deep wounds to many and as a result, I offered Majority Leader Hoyer a path to lower the temperature and address these concerns. 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 said, going on to repeat several attacks on Democratic members.

The statement is unlikely to calm any fears among GOP members, who are growing nervous that his lack of action could embolden fringe members in the conference, damage the party's reputation and ultimately serve as a long-term distraction that will endanger their ability to win back the House in 2022.

A senior Republican House member, speaking on condition of background in order to freely discuss the ongoing going discussions, told CNN "if he doesn't act, he's going to continue to look indecisive."

Another Republican member familiar with the process, had a more colorful assessment: "Either he has sh** the bed on this thing or he shows he's going to get us through this. We have to deal with our own House. We have to clean up the mess in our own House."

That member argued that if McCarthy doesn't take decisive action, he will force his own Republican conference to walk the plank when Democrats force a resolution that would remove Greene of her committee assignments. It's a tough vote and one that would force every single member to decide if they stand with Greene or not.

"It's the job of leadership to protect our rank-and-file members," the member said.

Still, McCarthy is walking a fine line, needing to strike a position on Greene that won't alienate some of his most conservative members of the Republican conference, unleash the ire of former President Donald Trump or set a precedent that allows representatives to be pulled from committees for comments they made before they were in Congress.

One member argued that while Greene's comments were "bat**** crazy," she made them before she was in Congress and that makes it harder for McCarthy to act.

"We need to be thoughtful. I'd like to see her be a productive member of Congress," the person said before adding "I don't know if that is possible."

This week, Republican senators have also gone out of their way to distance themselves from Greene, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell who slammed the Georgia Republican's "loony lies and conspiracy theories" as a "cancer" for the party.

Conservative Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota blasted Greene on Wednesday, calling her "very extreme, to say the least."

"Is she a good face for the Republican Party? She is not," he said.

When Greene was handed committee assignments weeks ago, the thinking among members and leadership was that it would provide the congresswoman a chance to prove she could do the work and move past her conspiracy-theory ridden past.

The thinking -- before it was resurfaced that she'd harassed a Parkland survivor on Capitol Hill and argued the shooting was a false flag event -- was that the House Committee on Education and Labor would put her under the tutelage of Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican with a reputation for running a tight ship and standing up against colleagues who step out of line. Greene was then put on Budget where the top Republican, Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, had a reputation for helping new members understand the intricacies of how Congress worked.

As more and more information about Greene's past came out and as the congresswoman showed no remorse, the issue of keeping her on the committees appears to have become untenable.

Following his meeting with Greene on Tuesday, McCarthy summoned the powerful Steering Committee for a late-night meeting. The GOP steering panel can remove Republican House members from their committee posts, but two officials with direct knowledge of the meeting told CNN that the committee did not make a decision as of Tuesday night.

During his meeting with Greene, McCarthy asked if she would apologize for her past comments and views, which she did not agree to, a person with knowledge of the matter told CNN. Another person familiar with their conversation also said that McCarthy provided a slew of options to her, including that she could show remorse and apologize.

McCarthy and the steering committee also discussed other options, including forcing her off just the Education Committee but letting her stay on the Budget Committee, according to a person with knowledge of the talks.

Officials said the Steering Committee will meet again Wednesday to see if they can come to a decision. Greene did not meet with the panel.

In relaying how the meeting with Greene went, the two officials who spoke with CNN on Tuesday night said that McCarthy gave no indication that Greene showed any remorse or contrition for her comments.

It's unclear if removing Greene from committee spots will be seen by some in the GOP as too far. Rep. Jim Banks, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, told CNN that "it's a slippery slope" to strip Greene from her committee spots, echoing arguments many of his GOP colleagues are making.

Hoyer explained on a call with reporters later Wednesday the thinking behind the vote stripping Greene of her committee assignments.

"She has placed many members in fear for their welfare and she has attacked and made incendiary remarks prior to but also during her term as a member of Congress with respect to the safety and welfare of the Speaker of the House and others in the House. And we believe she also gave aid and comfort to those who led an insurrection," Hoyer said. "The language that she has used, in many respects, goes far beyond the remarks that Steve King made through the years."

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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