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One clash in the battle for the future of the Republican Party played out in the Capitol on Wednesday as the House Republican caucus met privately to discuss taking action against two of its members at opposite ends of the GOP spectrum.
This week, GOP House members simultaneously considered whether to strip Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney of her leadership role in the chamber and whether to punish freshman Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a staunch backer of former President Donald Trump and online conspiracy theories.
For now, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his caucus accomplished a delicate balancing act by not rebuking either lawmaker. But their dilemma is illustrative of the ongoing challenges facing the GOP as it deals with divisions that have deepened after four years of Trump in the White House.
Cheney, the House Republicans’ third ranking leader, was under fire from the large pro-Trump wing of the House GOP because she, along with nine other Republicans in that chamber, voted to impeach Trump last month for his role in the Jan. 6 takeover of the U.S. Capitol. That faction was calling for Cheney to be stripped of her leadership role.
Greene, who has been in office for only a month, has come under growing scrutin y after her social media posts showed support for conspiracy theories that the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings were fake and she pondered whether space lasers controlled by Jewish financiers may be responsible for wildfires in California. Videos also show her harassing Parkland survivor David Hogg and making anti-Muslim and other bigoted comments. She indicated support on social media for executing Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to CNN.
“Past comments from and endorsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene on school shootings, political violence and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference,” McCarthy said before Wednesday’s meeting. But, he and fellow House Republicans declined to strip Greene, who apologized for some of her actions, of her committee posts. McCarthy did suggest moving her to a different committee.
Just two years ago, House GOP leaders removed Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who had a history of racist comments, from the Agriculture and Judiciary committees. He lost the Republican primary for his seat in 2020.
The Republican’s lack of action may be moot as the Democratic-controlled House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a resolution to remove Greene from her seats on the Education and Labor Committee and the Budget Committee.
The House Republican Solomon-like decision to stand behind both Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and disruptive and divisive upstarts like Greene will be a difficult stance to maintain as the tug of war between more traditional Republicans and Trump backers continues.
“Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” McConnell said in a statement Monday. “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality.”
“Our big tent is not large enough to both accommodate conservatives and kooks,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican to vote last year to convict Trump on impeachment charges related to his phone call with the Ukranian president, told reporters Tuesday.
No party should be monolithic and shut off legitimate debate and disagreement. But, today’s GOP is challenged with extreme personalities and ideas that are turning away longtime party members. That is a big reason for concern.
In North Carolina, nearly 6,000 people switched their voter registration away from the Republican Party after a large group, including Trump backers aiming to stop Congress’ certification of Electoral College votes showing Joe Biden won the presidency, stormed the U.S. Capitol. Nearly 10,000 Republicans left the party in Pennsylvania and about 7,500 have done so in Arizona in January.
Lyle Darrah, a lifelong Republican from Colorado, told NPR he felt his allegiance to the party slip away as he watched events at the Capitol unfold Jan. 6. Later that night, he switched his registration on the state’s voter registration website.
“I don’t know if there’s anything to be said about being party loyal your entire life, if your party doesn’t go in the direction you want it to,” Darrah told NPR. He is one of about 4,600 Colorado Republicans who left the party between Jan. 6 and 12.
“I think it should be a signal,” he said of the departures.
If this week’s actions are any indication, the party needs to start taking those signals much more seriously.