Proverbially, crossing the aisle in American politics means reaching out to cooperate with the opposite political party. On Wednesday, top Democrat Steny Hoyer literally crossed the aisle to the Republican side on the House floor – but not to extend a hand of friendship.
He was carrying an oversized poster featuring a Facebook post by Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, showing her carrying a rifle, next to photoshopped photos of Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez – three progressive House members.
“They’re not ‘the Squad,'” Hoyer told the Republicans of the congresswomen targeted by Greene’s post. “They’re Ilhan. They’re Alexandria. They’re Rashida. They are people. They are our colleagues.”
The Democratic-controlled House then proceeded to strip Greene of her committee assignments over past bigoted comments – an extraordinary formal rebuke that sets a precedent for disciplining a legislator from the minority party.
The resolution against Greene passed in a 230-199 vote, with the backing of only 11 Republicans.
Republican identity crisis
Greene’s past support for QAnon and Islamophobic statements were well-known before she won her election last year with the backing of the mainstream Republican Party and then-President Donald Trump.
Still, the Capitol riots on 6 January brought increased scrutiny to Greene’s online activity, which revealed more shocking content – including posts where she blamed laser beams from outer space operated by a family of prominent Jewish bankers for wildfires, suggested that the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon was a hoax, and falsely asserted that a deadly school shooting in Florida was a false flag operation to attack gun rights.
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Greene had also “liked” a Facebook comment calling for the execution of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The new findings, along with the brewing anger over the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, prompted Democrats to punish Greene amid calls by Muslim and Jewish groups to expel her from Congress.
Greene had been one of the most vocal supporters of Trump’s baseless voter fraud allegations. The Capitol rioters had aimed to disrupt the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
Since political parties choose their own representatives to serve on committees, it fell on Republicans to hold Greene to account. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to take action against the congresswoman from Georgia.
The reluctance to do so showed Republicans are unwilling to purge the party of Trump’s heritage after the former president normalised hate, conspiracy theories and unhinged political commentary.
As recently as 2019, Republicans had taken action against one of their own when they stripped then congressman Steve King of his committee assignments after he voiced explicit support for white nationalism.
The Greene situation arose amid internal strife in the Republican caucus as the party, which wholeheartedly embraced Trump for the past four years, undergoes an identity crisis.
Greene vs Cheney
As Democrats pushed against Greene, Trump loyalists – led by Congressman Matt Gaetz – were plotting against Congresswoman Liz Cheney for voting to impeach the former president for his alleged role in the violence at the Capitol in January.
Cheney, who is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, had defended Trump’s “Muslim ban”, expressed enthusiastic support for his southern border wall proposal and engaged in her own share of lies targeting Muslim-American legislators.
Still, Cheney and Greene have emerged as representatives of the two sides in the debate over Trumpism in the Republican Party. And both were spared an internal purge.
Earlier this week, Cheney survived with ease an internal caucus vote challenging her leadership position as the Republican conference chair – the number three GOP member in the House.
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On Thursday, Cheney was not one of the 11 Republicans who voted against Greene.
On the House floor, Greene decried misinformation and disavowed some of her past conspiracy theories, asserting that “9/11 absolutely happened”. She expressed “regret” for some of her social media activity, but did not explicitly apologise.
Her Republican colleagues defended her by citing positions voiced by Democrats – with focus on Omar and her past criticism of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.
Another argument they advanced is that Democrats are behaving tyrannically by using their majority to dictate the minority party’s committee allocations.
“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” said McCarthy, the Republican leader.
“If that’s the new standard; if people are held to what they have said prior to even being in this House; if the majority party gets to decide who sits on what other committees, I hope you keep that standard because we have a long list you can work with in your own.”
Mo Brooks, a conservative congressman from Alabama, also suggested that if Republicans reclaim the House, they would get involved in the Democrats’ committee nominations.
“#Socialists to strip #MarjorieTaylorGreene committee assignments for alleged PRE-ELECTION conduct. BAD IDEA! Socialists subvert democracy & diss voters who elected MTG,” he wrote on Twitter.
“When GOP recaptures House in 2022, this precedent lets GOP dictate ALL Socialist committee assignments! Hmmm.”
Beth Miller, government affairs manager at JVP Action, a political advocacy group linked to Jewish Voice for Peace, said capping Greene’s powers was crucial despite the prospect of future Republican retaliation.
“She’s a terrifying person to have in Congress. She should not hold a position on a committee in the House. That is the most important thing,” Miller told MEE.
“The GOP loves to play politics. But the truth is, if the precedent is that if you make death threats against your colleagues, then you’ll be stripped of your committee positions, that’s an OK precedent to be set.”
‘Marjorie Taylor Greene represents a part of the Republican Party’
– Beth Miller, JVP Action
On the House floor on Thursday, Tlaib argued that the resolution against Greene is a needed measure to reject the Republican legislator’s “violent, anti-Black, racist Islamophobic, antisemitic” views.
“Every single day that goes by without outright condemnation from every single one of our Republican colleagues – without consequences for her extremist views – is an outright endorsement of white supremacy,” Tlaib said. “We owe it to our residents who have been a victim of these very hateful views to take action.”
Omar said the resolution is not about Greene as one congresswoman, but about the views that she represents.
“This is about who we are as a body and what we are as a democracy. This is about whether it is acceptable to cheer on and encourage an insurrection against our basic democratic process,” Omar said.
“This is about whether it is OK to demand the members to swear in on a Bible of a religion they do not practice. This is about whether it is OK to hold an assault rifle next to members’ heads in a campaign ad and incite death threats against them. This is about whether it is OK to encourage the murder of the Speaker of the House.”
Greene’s Republican defenders in the House had argued that while they do not endorse her views, the congresswoman should not be punished for what she has said and done before being sworn into Congress last year.
But Miller, of JVP Action, said the GOP leadership stood by Greene because she has support inside the party.
“It’s terrifying to think of this, but Marjorie Taylor Greene represents a part of the Republican Party,” Miller told MEE. “The reason Republicans don’t want to hold her accountable is because they know that she represents part of their larger philosophy.”
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Miller likened Greene to Trump, who was seldom criticised by powerful Republicans until his last days in office despite regularly promoting bigotry and conspiracy theories. “Just like Trump, she didn’t come out of nowhere. She is a symptom of the hateful systemic oppression.”
While Trump has gone quiet since leaving office and being banned by Twitter, Greene will be in Congress for the next two years at least. She appeared defiant after the vote against her.
“I’m fine with being kicked off of my committees because it’d be a waste of my time,” she said at a news conference outside the Capitol on Friday.
“You know who I am. I’m a very hard worker and I’m proud of it. So now I have a lot of free time on my hands, which means I can talk to a whole lot more people all over this country… and make connections and build a huge amount of support that I’ve already got started with people that want to put America first.”
And because there is no Trumpism without Trump, Greene invoked the twice-impeached former president, saying that Republicans are still behind him. “The party is his. It doesn’t belong to anybody else.”