WASHINGTON — A fiercely divided House tossed Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene off both her committees today, an unprecedented punishment that Democrats said she’d earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories.
Underscoring the political vise her inflammatory commentary has clamped her party into, nearly all Republicans voted against the Democratic move but none defended her lengthy history of outrageous social media posts.
Yet in a riveting moment, the freshman Republican from a deep-red corner of rural Georgia took to the House floor on her own behalf. She offered a mixture of backpedaling and finger-pointing as she wore a dark mask emblazoned with the words “FREE SPEECH.”
The chamber’s near party-line 230-199 vote was the latest instance of conspiracy theories becoming pitched political battlefields, an increasingly familiar occurrence during Donald Trump’s presidency. He faces Senate trial next week for his House impeachment for inciting insurrection after a mob he fueled with his false narrative of a stolen election attacked the Capitol.
Today’s fight also underscored the uproar and political complexities that Greene — a master of provoking Democrats, promoting herself and raising campaign money — has prompted since becoming a House candidate last year.
Eleven Republicans joined 219 Democrats in backing Greene’s ejection from her committees, while 199 GOP lawmakers voted “no.”
Addressing her colleagues, Greene tried to dissociate herself from her “words of the past.” Contradicting past social media posts, she said she believes the 9-11 attacks and mass school shootings were real and no longer believes QAnon conspiracy theories, which include lies about Democratic-run pedophile rings.
But she didn’t explicitly apologize for supportive online remarks she’s made on other subjects, as when she mulled about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being assassinated or the possibility of Jewish-controlled space rays causing wildfires. And she portrayed herself as the victim of unscrupulous “big media companies.”
News organizations “can take teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us as someone that we’re not,” she said. She added that “we’re in a real big problem” if the House punished her but tolerated “members that condone riots that have hurt American people” — a clear reference to last summer’s social justice protests that in some instances became violent.
As No 2. Senate Republican John Thune warned Tuesday, McCarthy has chosen to make House Republicans “the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon” and Reprsentative Greene is in the driver’s seat.
“The party of Lincoln is becoming the party of violent conspiracy theories, and apparently the leaders of the Republican Party in the House today are not going to do a damned thing about it,” said Rep. James McGovern, D-Massachusetts.
Republicans tread carefully but found rallying points.
McCarthy said Greene’s past opinions “do not represent the views of my party.” But without naming the offenders, he said Pelosi hadn’t stripped committee memberships from Democrats who became embroiled in controversy. Among those he implicated was Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who made anti-Israel insults for which she later apologized.
“If that’s the new standard,” he said of Democrats’ move against Greene, “we have a long list.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Democrats were setting a precedent by punishing lawmakers for statements made before they were even candidates for Congress. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, warned, “You engage in wrong-speak, you’re in the Thunder Dome,” a term for an enclosed wrestling arena.
Committee assignments are crucial for lawmakers for shaping legislation affecting their districts, creating a national reputation and raising campaign contributions. Even social media stars like Greene could find it harder to define themselves without the spotlights that committees provide.
Not all Republicans were in forgiving moods, especially in the Senate. There, fringe GOP candidates have lost winnable races in recent years and leaders worry a continued linkage with Trump and conspiracists will inflict more damage.
That chamber’s minority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., this week called Greene’s words a “cancer” on the GOP and country. On Thursday, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota amplified that thinking.
Thune said House Republicans needed to issue a “really strong” rebuke of Greene’s conspiratorial formulations. Republicans must “get away from members dabbling in conspiracy theories,” Thune said. “I don’t think that’s a productive course of action or one that’s going to lead to much prosperity politically in the future.”
The fight came a day after Republicans resolved another battle and voted to keep Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in their leadership. Pro-Trump conservatives tried removing her because she supported Trump’s impeachment.
The House resolution punishing Greene was barely over a page. It said House rules require lawmakers’ behavior to “reflect credibly” on the chamber and said Greene should be removed “in light of conduct she has exhibited.”
News organizations have unearthed countless social media videos and “likes” in which Greene embraced absurd theories like suspicions that Hillary Clinton was behind the 1999 death of John F. Kennedy Jr. Greene responded, “Stage is being set,” when someone posted a question about hanging Clinton and former President Barack Obama.
The Greene saga might not yet be over: Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), who has introduced a resolution to expel Greene from the House, said he still intended to force a vote on that question, but said he was in talks with Democratic leaders about the timing of the move. The House is expected to take a two-week recess after it completes its business this week.
Gomez said Thursday’s vote — and Greene’s speech — did little to soothe Democrats’ anger, which remains raw just four weeks after the deadly riot.
“If Donald Trump is Conspirator No. 1 in the insurrection, she’s Conspirator No. 2,” he said. “That’s why I’m pursuing this, is to send a message that this kind of discourse in our politics is not acceptable — inciting political violence, threatening people, is not acceptable and a person like that should not hold a position in the House of Representatives.”