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The ranks of the U.S. House of Representatives have seen plenty of controversial, offensive and even corrupt members. But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) may be the first to have publicly endorsed the execution of a House speaker — at least the first since the Civil War.
That's just one of the eye-popping nuggets of vitriol that Greene, a relentless provocateur, spewed or supported on her social media accounts before winning a seat in a deeply red district in northern Georgia in November. The multiple bits of racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and gun rights conspiracist nonsense Greene has said or endorsed also showed her to be alarmingly disconnected from reality.
The attention-grabbing freshman's extremism poses a problem for her party, yet House Republican leaders said little in response until Wednesday, when Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) publicly condemned some of her most outrageous remarks. Instead, they assigned Greene — who has questioned whether the terrible school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 and Parkland, Fla., 2018 really happened — to the Education and Labor Committee (along with the Budget Committee).
Meanwhile, some rank-and-file House Republicans pushed their caucus Wednesday to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her third-ranking spot in the party leadership. Her offense? She was one of 10 House Republicans who bravely voted to impeach President Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. After four hours of debate, the caucus voted to keep Cheney in place. It took no action on Greene.
Put simply, numerous House Republicans want to penalize a staunch conservative who acknowledged Trump's culpability for an insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, but they are spineless when it comes to a Trump-loving conspiracist who blamed a deadly California fire on space lasers funded by Jewish bankers. Instead, the pushback has mainly come from Senate Republicans, who evidently feared that Greene was dragging down the entire GOP brand.
Perhaps she is, but that's the Republicans' problem. Democrats, though, are so bothered by Greene's views that they're fast-tracking a resolution to remove her from her assigned committees. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) is also circulating a resolution to expel Greene from the House entirely.
Greene is a continuation of the four-year abasement that Trump inflicted on this country, and her cheerleading for Trump's Big Lie of a stolen election is all the more intolerable in light of the deadly Capitol riot. Yet any punishment meted out by Democrats instead of Republicans may only strengthen Greene, who has turned the recent criticism of her remarks into a fundraising bonanza.
Under House rules, each party gets to decide for itself which members serve on most committees. The last time the full House voted to remove a minority party member from a committee was in 2006, when it ratified a recommendation from House Democrats to oust William Jefferson (D-La.), under federal investigation for bribery, from the Ways and Means Committee. If the Democratic majority denies Greene her GOP committee assignments contrary to the will of her party, that could invite future majorities to do the same thing to minority lawmakers for less substantive reasons.
Indeed, a number of Republicans noted Wednesday the potential targets for retaliation — liberal Democrats whose utterances rankled them. A Texas Republican has already started the tit-for-tat, offering an amendment to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a fierce critic of Israel who has faced accusations of anti-Semitism, from her committees instead of Greene.
Gomez's resolution presents a different issue. The House clearly has the right to decide when a member's behavior makes him or her unfit to hold a seat. It has expelled five members or members-elect over the years, three at the dawn of the Civil War for disloyalty to the Union and two in the late 20th century for taking bribes. If Gomez can make a case that Greene's actions in office have damaged the House or made it feel like a more dangerous place to work, that's fair game. Any of her prior comments that contribute to the current climate of fear, such as her YouTube video in 2019 urging people to "flood the Capitol" to intimidate Democratic leaders, are fair game as well.
Still, Democrats' animus against Greene stems at least in part from her long record before taking office of conspiracy mongering on behalf of Trump and gun rights zealots. And if their case to remove Greene is built largely around her social media presence before her election, it would tell the Georgians who supported her that they didn't get to decide for themselves whether she was fit to serve.
House Democrats need to wield their power carefully. They may recoil at Greene's history of "loony lies," as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put it, and her hate-imbued social media feed. But the main damage she's doing is to the Republican Party and to her district.
At the same time, House Republicans should think twice about the message they're broadcasting. Two-thirds of them sought to disenfranchise the voters of Arizona and Pennsylvania in service of Trump's dangerous fantasies about a stolen election — and they did so after his supporters besieged the Capitol. And on Wednesday, they considered punishing not the member who'd once called on the public to descend on her opponents in Washington, but the one who'd voted to hold Trump accountable for the result. That's a party, to borrow another phrase from McConnell, "not living in reality."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.