Marjorie Taylor Greene vowed to be the left’s “worst nightmare” after she won the GOP nomination for a conservative district in Georgia on Tuesday night.
But House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is the one who is most likely to be haunted by Greene.
The rise of Greene — an unapologetic QAnon conspiracy theorist who has made disparaging remarks about Jews, Blacks, and Muslims — is threatening to hurt the entire party as Republicans seek to stanch their bleeding in suburbia and expand their base of support amid a national reckoning over racial inequality. Greene won a GOP primary runoff in a deep red northwest Georgia seat, all but guaranteeing her a spot in Congress next year.
Now Republicans up and down the ballot will have to answer for Greene’s controversial remarks. And she’s showing no signs of softening her rhetoric. During her primary victory party, Greene ripped into “spineless Republicans,” called Speaker Nancy Pelosi “a bitch” and kicked reporters out of the event. Greene then celebrated their ouster on Twitter.
By Wednesday, Greene was already in a Twitter war with a sitting House Republican who said there is “no place in Congress for these conspiracies.”
Greene’s actions offered a preview of the type of headache-inducing behavior that Republicans fear will come to define her and perhaps the broader GOP — especially after President Donald Trump on Wednesday called Greene a “future Republican Star.”
“If she’s the future of the Republican party, we’re in trouble,” complained freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), who was ousted in a June primary by a far-right candidate after officiating a gay wedding. “QAnon is the mental gonorrhea of conspiracy theories. It’s disgusting and you want to get rid of it as fast as possible.”
“If there’s people [in the GOP] espousing these views, it’s a massive drag on the Republican Party,” Riggleman added.
Yet to the consternation of many House Republicans, McCarthy (R-Calif.) did little to thwart Greene’s bid. He stayed neutral in the primary runoff, despite initially calling Greene’s comments “appalling” and saying he has no tolerance for them. POLITICO first reported on Greene’s history of racist and anti-Semitic comments in June.
Some House GOP operatives fear that ushering Greene into the party will set a dangerous precedent.
“It’s important for Republicans to stand up against people like this who are harming the whole party brand,” said former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who lost reelection in 2018. “That’s what they did with Steve King when they kicked him off of committees.”
McCarthy removed King from his committees in January 2019 after the Iowa Republican defended using the term “white supremacist” in an interview with The New York Times. King was defeated in a Republican primary in June, to the relief of many Republicans.
McCarthy’s office, however, said Wednesday that Greene will be welcomed into the GOP conference and given seats on congressional committees, provided she wins in November. A McCarthy spokesman added that they “look forward” to Greene “and all of our Republican candidates across the country” being victorious on Election Day.
Greene’s candidacy and her vocal embrace of QAnon — a fringe conspiracy theory that the FBI labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat — has put McCarthy in a serious bind.
McCarthy’s top deputy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and a dozen other House Republicans repudiated Greene and actively worked to boost her Republican primary opponent, neurosurgeon John Cowan. McCarthy, meanwhile, is trying to prevent the GOP from sinking further into the House minority and has tried to recruit and appeal to more women and minorities. The House GOP currently has 13 female members and only one Black member, Will Hurd of Texas, who is retiring. There are 88 Democratic women serving in the House, as well as 50 Black Democrats.
But then there’s Trump, with whom McCarthy has closely aligned himself going back to the 2016 campaign. Trump, who fueled his political rise by peddling the “birtherism” conspiracy theory about former President Barack Obama, has been openly flirting with QAnon supporters. But his full-throated endorsement of Greene is his strongest nod yet to the fringe movement and will be a huge problem for the House GOP leadership. Dozens of QAnon supporters, or those who have expressed sympathy to the movement, ran for Congress this year, meaning Greene may be only the vanguard of a congressional faction that could cause long-term disruption to the party.
Meanwhile, the conservative House Freedom Caucus — a bloc of support that will be crucial for McCarthy in any future leadership bids — is also actively supporting Greene and recruited her to run for the deep red seat instead of a more competitive one.
Many GOP lawmakers, donors and strategists were angry and baffled that McCarthy didn’t intervene in the race. He even told Cowan in a late July phone call that he was behind him and that “help is on the way,” according to a source familiar with their conversation. Now, some are predicting that McCarthy could suffer backlash for staying out — especially if things go sideways for the GOP in November.
“Kevin McCarthy puffed his chest out about stripping Steve King of his committee assignments, then sat on the sidelines and let another Steve King walk away with this race in GA14,” said one GOP source. “It’s political malpractice and Republicans will be answering for her for years to come.”
Riggleman, however, was more forgiving: “I think McCarthy was in an impossible situation.”
Democrats are already trying to make Greene the face of the GOP. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos of Illinois said Greene “is a next-generation Steve King who is now the Republican nominee for Congress because Minority Leader McCarthy refused to meaningfully oppose her racist candidacy.”
Georgia Democrats are also trying to make Greene an issue in the two Senate races taking place in the Peach State this fall and two open House seats in the suburbs of Atlanta.
“My heart hurts for all of the Republican women who have worked so hard, harder than most to get to where they are, who are now going to have to waste one second of their breath explaining how her beliefs are not theirs,” said Julie Conway, a veteran party strategist who has been warning donors, members of Congress and their aides since last spring about Greene’s candidacy.
Yet in a sign of how tight Trump’s grip is on the GOP, few Republicans — including those who campaigned against Greene — spoke out in the wake of her primary win. Scalise, GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer of Minnesota had no comment on Wednesday.
A spokesperson to Emmer responded by invoking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came under fire for repeating Jewish tropes that many feel are anti-Semitic. Omar won her primary Tuesday night.
“Are Cheri Bustos and the DCCC going to support Ilhan Omar, given the concern House Democrats have expressed repeatedly with her racism and anti-Semitism?” NRCC spokesman Chris Pack said.
House Democrats, however, responded to the Omar controversy last year by passing two resolutions decrying anti-Semitism, though the Minnesota Democrat wasn’t named in either measure.
McCarthy and GOP congressional leaders are hampered in how they can stop Greene by House rules and legal precedents. If Greene were to win in November, as expected, there’s no way the House can refuse to seat her, despite her incendiary comments.
However, Republicans don’t have to accept her into their conference even if she wins the election running as a GOP candidate. The Republican and Democratic caucuses in Congress decide whom to allow into their respective ranks, and there is no requirement that leadership give Greene a committee assignment either. There have been members — such as King — who served but held no committee seats. They are allowed to vote on the floor and can be recognized for floor speeches, but they don’t have any further legislative duties.
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