This was a curious coda to last night’s messy, five-hour fight to determine what direction the House Republican caucus would take. As Allahpundit wrote last night, Liz Cheney easily beat back the surprisingly small Trump-populist contingent in a confidence vote, 145-61-1, to hold onto the #3 spot in leadership. The caucus then rallied around Marjorie Taylor Greene, refusing to strip her of any committee assignments, leaving Kevin McCarthy in position of engaging both wings of his caucus and offering at least some unity, if not exactly clarity.
Curiously, however, McCarthy raised the stakes in the leadership presser later. He told reporters that Greene had denounced QAnon and other conspiracy theories, especially about school shootings as “false flag” operations, and promised to do better. McCarthy then challenged Greene to denounce those publicly, which raises the stakes for Greene and the caucus all over again:
Q: Do Democrats deserve to hear that same apology that she gave [crosstalk]?
MCCARTHY: Well, I think everybody should hear that. And she has expressed that she has put it out from news agencies and others. And I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly she told all of us — denouncing QAnon, I don’t know if say it right, I don’t even know what it is, any from the shootings. She said she knew nothing about lasers, or all the different things that have been brought up about her.
Whether McCarthy intended it or not, that sets up an expectation for a public apology and renunciation on Greene’s part. Democrats will go to the floor as early as today to take formal action against Greene, and now might demand that apology and renunciation on the House floor as the price of de-escalating from that response.
Has McCarthy already arranged for that — or did he blindside Greene and his caucus with that statement? McCarthy has more or less legitimized that demand, or at least set that expectation. If Greene’s not prepared to deliver on it, that’s not going to work out well for either of them. It looks like McCarthy’s winging it, at least for now.
As for unity, McCarthy’s not exactly making progress, although it might be a bit soon for taking temperatures. Rep. Adam Kinzinger told CNN’s John Berman that the result on Greene was “disappointing by a factor of a thousand,” and that Republicans should have taken care of their own business last night. The “you could be next” argument doesn’t work for Kinzinger:
Kinzinger then says "our side" should deal with her. pic.twitter.com/D7K46ZZPYa
— The Recount (@therecount) February 4, 2021
The sentiment is correct, but the direction of the anger is misguided. Committee removals should be for malfeasance while in office or outright corruption, not for statements made prior to coming to Congress. Republicans should have insisted that Greene make her apology public while using committee assignments as leverage, or better yet the threat of expulsion from the caucus and a cut-off all party support. The latter is what actually cured their Steve King problem. The best solution for an embarrassing member, especially with a freshman from a safe district, is to fund a primary challenger — and make sure the member knows it.