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GOP Discord Over Liz Cheney, Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Still All About Trump

Updated at 5:34 p.m. ET

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has broken his silence on Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, condemning her incendiary remarks but stopping short of naming any party disciplinary action toward her. The Democratic-led House announced earlier on Wednesday that it would move forward with a resolution to punish Greene.

"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 in a statement early Wednesday evening.

McCarthy said he met with Greene and "made clear that as a member of Congress we have a responsibility to hold ourselves to a higher standard than how she presented herself as a private citizen." He went on to criticize Democrats for Thursday's planned vote to remove Greene from her committee assignments.

It's one of two potential political personnel fires McCarthy addressed on Wednesday.

The House Republican Conference also met to discuss the fate of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member in House leadership with a drastically different loyalty to former President Donald Trump than Greene.

Wednesday's events are a stark reminder of Trump's continual hold on his party, even after many congressional Republicans condemned how he acted ahead of and during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Cheney's break

Trump's actions on the day of the riot earned him another rebuke from the House, the first time in history a president has been impeached twice. Ten House Republicans voted alongside Democrats to impeach him.

One of them was Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, who said in a statement ahead of the vote: "There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution."

But backlash against her was swift, with many in her party calling for her removal from leadership.

Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., even went to Cheney's home state and urged her constituents to vote her out.

And while McCarthy, the House minority leader, has expressed support for Cheney, he also told news show host Greta Van Susteren that he has "concerns" over her impeachment vote.

"I do think she has a lot of questions she has to answer to the conference," he said in an interviewthat aired on Jan. 24.

"Loony lies"

As for Greene, McCarthy was under intense pressure to take substantive action against her from Democrats and members in his own party.

Greene has long embraced conspiracy theories and has a history of being racist and anti-Semitic. She recently came under fire for resurfaced content from before she was elected to her House seat that shows her espousing baseless conspiracy theories that the Parkland, Fla., school shooting was a hoax and "liking" social media posts that called for violence against top Democrats.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., seen here at the opening session of Congress on Jan. 3 with her "Trump Won" face mask pulled down, has been outspoken on her controversial views for a while.
Pool / Getty Images
Getty Images
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., seen here at the opening session of Congress on Jan. 3 with her "Trump Won" face mask pulled down, has been outspoken on her controversial views for a while.

Democrats have pushed for Greene to be censured and have introduced a resolutionto remove her from her committee assignments. The Rules Committee met Wednesday afternoon to debate the resolution to remove Greene from House committees.

The House will vote on the resolution Thursday.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that he spoke to McCarthy on Wednesday morning and that "it is clear there is no alternative to holding a Floor vote on the resolution to remove Rep. Greene from her committee assignments."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also weighed in on Greene, sayingin a statement Monday that didn't directly cite her by name that "loony lies and conspiracy theories" are a "cancer for the Republican Party."

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, echoed that sentiment on Tuesday, telling Capitol Hill reporters that Republicans "should have nothing to do with Marjorie Taylor Greene."

"It's important for us to separate ourselves from the people that are in the wacky weeds, and if we don't, then our opposition tries to brand us with their image and with their point of view," he said.

Support for Greene

The episode once again highlights that Trump is still at the center of the political implications at play.

Greene has closely linked herself to Trump, tweeting Saturday that she had a "GREAT call" with him.

"I'm so grateful for his support and more importantly the people of this country are absolutely 100% loyal to him because he is 100% loyal to the people and America First," she wrote.

Trump's backing of Greene, whom he once called a "future Republican star," could make it difficult for McCarthy, who recently met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club resort in Florida to discuss taking back the House in 2022, to mete out the robust action that Democrats and some Republicans are calling for.

Georgia's 14th District Republican Party leaders also came to Greene's defense Tuesday. In a letter, the party chairs and members called on McCarthy to keep the congresswoman on the House Education and Labor Committee, as well as the House Budget Committee, writing that she "has broken no laws and done nothing illegal."

Greene shared the letter on her Twitter page, tagging McCarthy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the post.

Greene has used the controversy to raise funds. On Tuesday night, she tweeted: "I'm the Democrat mob's public enemy number one" and "With your support, the Democrat mob can't cancel me."

Overnight, she said, she raised $160,000.

A spokesperson from her office said: "The support from NW Georgia and across the entire country has been overwhelming. The People truly have Congresswoman Greene's back because of her dedication to America First policies."

Greene isn't the only one fundraising off of the controversy. She is featured in a new series of adslaunched by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at various House Republicans who voted against Trump's impeachment. The ad accuses the Republican lawmakers of standing "with Q, not you," referencing the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory supported by Greene.

What about the upcoming Senate impeachment trial?

If there was any momentum on the Senate GOP side to convict Trump, it was in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack, and it has since dwindled significantly.

McConnell hadn't indicated how he would vote after the trial, potentially giving cover to members in his conference more inclined to vote to convict.

"My interpretation of what happened with McConnell is that he very much would like to turn the page and move on from Trump and left the door open quite intentionally to see if there was the requisite amount of support to get rid of him," says Brendan Buck, a Republican consultant who once advised former House Speaker Paul Ryan.

But an effort by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., forced his colleagues to go on the record over an element that many senators have said is weighing on their decision in the upcoming trial: whether it is constitutional to try someone no longer in office.

The move was the equivalent of sending up a test balloon to see how other members in his conference would vote. Only five Republicans broke with their party to say such a trial would be constitutional. The Democratic caucus would need 17 Republicans to join its members to convict Trump.

While some senators have argued their vote on Paul's motion won't necessarily equate to their vote after the trial, the tea leaves seem clear: The Senate won't convict Trump.

Certainly political calculations are at play here as well. Trump's base is obviously a devoutly loyal one, and crossing the former president so resolutely could bring with it an unwelcome political cost. Senators need only look at the House infighting between Trump loyalists and conservatives like Cheney.

"[Lawmakers] went out in their communities, and they got an earful on their phones and emails from people that was a reminder to them that voters love Trump still and there was no political upside to crossing him," Buck said.

He thinks Republicans will stick with Trump for the foreseeable future to win votes during their primaries, even if it costs national influence.

"Republican voters' infatuation with Donald Trump has not gone away, and pure loyalty to him and his cause will continue to be the most motivating factor for Republican voters," Buck said. "And when Republican voters feel that way, it's going to have an impact on senators and how they vote and how they talk and the politics that they play."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 3, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story incorrectly said President Donald Trump's impeachment is the second time in history a president was impeached twice. He is the only president to be impeached twice.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.