A key adviser to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was involved in a behind-the-scenes effort last month to help rehabilitate the reputation of freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, CNN has learned, discreetly facilitating her visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum before she issued a public apology for her recent anti-Semitic remarks.
It didn’t stick. Greene again made news this week for invoking Nazi-era imagery to mock Covid safety practices, raising fresh questions about whether McCarthy can keep a lid on his increasingly restive caucus with his soft touch and indirect methods, sometimes on his own and sometimes with the help of top allies and lawmakers. In this case, Jeff Miller, who sits on the board of trustees at the museum, orchestrated last month’s trip after Greene expressed interest in attending, multiple GOP sources said.
The episode underscores the limits of the McCarthy approach — not just with Greene, but with all of the radical members in his conference. While the California Republican has publicly denounced some of his members’ most controversial actions, including Greene’s Holocaust remarks, none of these lawmakers have suffered any real internal consequences for behavior that includes floating dangerous conspiracy theories, whitewashing the January 6 insurrection or having connections to white nationalists.
For McCarthy, he would much rather keep the spotlight on divisions across the aisle. The House Republican leader also believes keeping these fringe members in the fold — rather than ex-communicating them all together — is a better long-term leadership strategy for keeping them in check. Plus, the GOP leader may be reluctant to alienate a group of Donald Trump-aligned Republicans whom he may need to count on for speaker votes one day.
But that management style also poses a risk for McCarthy and the GOP, especially as the battle for the House heats up. Absent real punishment, the party’s extremists are not only failing to fall in line, but may only feel more emboldened. And Democrats are already seizing on the GOP’s refusal to exorcise the most radical elements from their party, looking to make it a campaign issue in the 2022 midterms.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene continues to make offensive comparisons to Nazis because she knows there will be no real consequences from Kevin McCarthy or Tom Emmer,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York congressman and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement. “McCarthy and Emmer have been nothing but complicit and cowardly in the face of Greene’s repeated racism and antisemitism.”
Controversies in the conference
Greene is hardly the only source of heartburn inside the House GOP. On Thursday, freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado also blasted out a tweet referring to “Needle Nazis” when talking about officials carrying out President Joe Biden’s latest Covid-19 vaccination push.
Then there’s Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for potential sex trafficking violations involving a minor. But McCarthy is letting the probe play out before deciding whether to reprimand the Florida Republican, while noting he’d automatically lose his committee assignments if indicted. In the meantime, though, Gaetz has gone on a public speaking tour with Greene and even floated running for president in 2024 if Trump sits out.
Meanwhile, a growing chorus of House Republicans have sought to downplay the deadly Capitol riots, including Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who said the day looked like a “normal tourist visit.” Greene, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas and other GOP lawmakers have started to promote a wild conspiracy theory that the FBI incited the insurrection. And Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona has been leading the charge to turn Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was shot by a police officer after storming the Capitol, into a martyr.
Gosar came under fire earlier this year for speaking at the America First Political Action Conference, which was organized by Nick Fuentes, a known white nationalist. The Arizona Republican also recently appeared on a fundraiser flier alongside Fuentes that was promoted on social media. Gosar denied that there was any such event on his schedule, but he also made clear that he is unapologetic about promoting the “America First” agenda — no matter who it attracts.
“Not sure why anyone is freaking out. I’ll say this: there are millions of Gen Z, Y and X conservatives. They believe in America First,” he tweeted. “They will not agree 100% on every issue. No group does. We will not let the left dictate our strategy, alliances and efforts. Ignore the left.”
None of those GOP members, including Gosar, have faced any widespread blowback or serious repercussions from their party, though McCarthy has previously said through a spokesman that “there is absolutely no place for racism in our discourse or society.”
Greene’s office, meanwhile, sent along a video featuring clips of journalists, pundits, strategists and comedians criticizing Trump and in some cases comparing him to a dictator.
McCarthy’s low-key leadership approach
When asked if he plans to reprimand the members who whitewashed the insurrection or voted against legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the police officers who defended the Capitol on January 6, McCarthy suggested that he deals with those matters privately.
“What I talk to my members is what I talk to my members personally about,” McCarthy said at a recent news conference. “But if you want to talk to somebody about how they vote, talk to them.”
Indeed, McCarthy prefers to operate behind the scenes. He has hauled Greene, Gaetz and Gosar into his office to have private conversations with them after controversies have surfaced. McCarthy has also implemented a mentorship program where more senior lawmakers are assigned to help guide the freshmen, including both Boebert and Greene, as well as Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, another Republican firebrand who has stepped in controversy.
There was at least one recent instance where McCarthy’s leadership style was successful in reining in the right flank: Gosar and Greene’s plans for an “America First” caucus were quickly scrapped after McCarthy and his top deputies condemned a draft proposal of a potential policy platform for the group, which called for respecting “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”
McCarthy’s allies argue that his carrot-over-stick approach has also proven to be successful with Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio. The conservative hard-liner was once a pain in McCarthy’s side and even challenged him for minority leader in 2018. But after McCarthy awarded Jordan high-profile assignments in the conference, Jordan is now a team player and has steered clear of some of the recent antics deployed by his fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus.
Defenders of McCarthy also point out that his ability to deal with unwieldy members is limited, especially when it comes to Greene, who already had her committee assignments taken away by Democrats earlier this year.
“What leverage does he have? What tools does he have?” said one GOP lawmaker. “He talks to them a lot. He does what he can. He sits them down and makes clear what his expectations are. But there’s only so much he can do.”
Yet McCarthy has shown that he is, in fact, willing to punish his own — but only in certain cases. In 2019, he removed former Rep. Steve King of Iowa from his committees, but only after King spent years making racist and controversial remarks and had been cut loose by the House GOP’s campaign arm.
More recently, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was booted from GOP leadership, with McCarthy’s blessing, for repeatedly criticizing Trump. And last week, McCarthy said during a private lunch that he would strip any Republican of their committee assignments if they accepted an offer from Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the January 6 select committee, though he later told reporters he wasn’t making any threats.
Still, Democrats have been quick to highlight the apparent difference in standards for Cheney and Greene.
“This Fourth of July recess, Kevin McCarthy has made it clear once again what kind of leader he is,” Pelosi’s press office said in a statement this week. “Not only will he kowtow to the radical elements of his conference and look the other way when they hold fundraisers with white supremacists or invite insurrectionists to events, but he will also actively silence and threaten anyone who stands up for the truth and our democracy.”
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