WASHINGTON – House Republicans decided Wednesday to stand by two GOP lawmakers who have polarized the party, voting to retain Rep. Liz Cheney as their No. 3 leader and saying they’d fight a Democratic push to kick Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene off her committees.
In a 145-61 secret-ballot vote, House Republicans overwhelmingly rebuffed a rebellion by hard-right conservatives to toss Cheney, R-Wyo., from leadership after she voted last month to impeach then-President Donald Trump.
Hours earlier, after Democrats slated a House vote for Thursday that would remove Greene from her committees, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy ridiculed them for it. His comments signaled he was dismissing bipartisan demands that the hard-right Georgia Republican be punished for her online embrace of racist and violent views and bizarre conspiracy theories.
The decisions over Greene and Cheney have subjected the GOP to a politically agonizing test of its direction as it moves beyond the Trump presidency. Since Trump grudgingly vacated the White House last month, the party has been ideologically adrift as it’s struggled over whether to embrace his norm-busting divisiveness or the party’s more traditional, policy-oriented conservative values.
But as Wednesday's internal showdowns concluded, McCarthy and the House GOP decided against punishing two of their most high-profile women, whose views enrage opposite ends of the party's spectrum. The moves were typical of McCarthy's preference to avoid ruffling feathers as he charts his path to someday becoming House speaker.
“You know what that’s going to mean?" he told reporters after the lengthy evening meeting. ”Two years from now, we're going to win the majority. That’s because this conference is more united. We’ve got the right leadership team behind it.”
But each of the GOP's wings remains concerned that the other is leading them down the wrong path, and to some, the day's outcome seemed more an uneasy truce than a full-on peace treaty.
“This is about the direction of our party and whether or not we’re going to be a majority who’s dedicated to just one person or we’re going to be a united Republican majority,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, R-Wash., who with Cheney was among just 10 House Republicans to back impeaching Trump.
Cheney is a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and a fixture of the party establishment, and she is viewed as eager to rise even higher in Washington's GOP hierarchy.
Deposing her from the leadership would likely have dealt a devastating blow to her career. It also would have served as a warning shot to traditional conservative Republicans hoping to diminish Trump's hold over the party.
“I won’t apologize for the vote,” Cheney told her colleagues in the closed-door session, according to a person familiar with the session who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
During a break in the session, McCarthy told reporters he’d defended Cheney inside.
“People can have differences of opinion. That’s what you can have a discussion about. Liz has a right to vote her conscience,” said McCarthy, who’d previously given no clear signal about whether he’d support his lieutenant.
Attendants said Greene and the conspiracy theories she's embraced came up during the closed-door meeting, which participants said was spirited, with long lines of speakers at the microphones. Some said Greene apologized to her colleagues, though there were conflicting, vague versions of exactly what she'd said.
“She was contrite. And I think she brought a lot of people over to her side," said conservative Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.
The day's action began when the Democratic-led House Rules Committee cleared the way for Thursday's vote punishing Greene. After that meeting, McCarthy released a statement saying Democrats were “choosing to raise the temperature" by attempting a “partisan power grab."
He condemned Greene's past endorsements of conspiracy theories — after weeks of saying little critical of her — and said the first-term congresswoman had recognized in a private conversation that she must meet “a higher standard" as a lawmaker.
“I hold her to her word, as well as her actions going forward," McCarthy said.
Greene has shown support for calls to violence against Democrats, bizarre fictions about faked school shootings and unfounded QAnon theories about Democrats joining in child abuse rings.
Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said lawmakers would send “an awful message” if they took no action on Greene. “If this is not the bottom, I don’t know what the hell is,” McGovern said.
Around two-thirds of House Republicans voted to back Trump's effort to overturn his November election loss — just hours after his supporters' deadly Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol that led to his impeachment for inciting insurrection.
Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP senators have lambasted Greene, reflecting worries that her wing of the party cannot win statewide Senate races.
Despite McCarthy's support, a House vote over Greene's committee roles was expected to be a political ordeal for many Republicans. It would force them to go on record defending or punishing the unapologetic, social media-savvy Greene.
She burst onto the national political scene after just a month in office and with enthusiastic support from Trump. Even during the effort to punish her, she has lashed out at Democrats and raised money on the controversy.
Republicans appointed Greene to the Education and Labor Committee, a decision that drew especially harsh criticism because of her suggestions that mass school shootings in Connecticut and Florida could be hoaxes. Greene is also on the Budget Committee.
McCarthy said Democrats turned down his offer to move Greene onto the House Small Business Committee instead.
It's unusual for party leaders to strip lawmakers of committee assignments, which can help them address their districts’ needs and raise campaign contributions.
In 2019, House GOP leaders removed Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who had a history of racist comments, from the Agriculture and Judiciary panels after wondering aloud in a New York Times story about when the term “white supremacist” became offensive. He lost the Republican primary for his seat in 2020 and is out of Congress after serving nine terms.
In online videos and through supportive “likes” on social media, Greene has voiced support for racist beliefs, calls for violence against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama and other false theories.
The Senate plans to begin its impeachment trial of Trump next week. In a procedural vote, all but five GOP senators voted to scuttle the proceedings, indicating that his conviction is unlikely.