(Headline USA) 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 Greene off her committees.
In a 145-61 secret-ballot vote, House Republicans overwhelmingly rebuffed a rebellion by 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 Georgia Republican be punished for her online embrace of 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 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.
But Cheney may not even hold her Wyoming seat for much longer, as support for her from Republicans in the state has diminished into the teens. She has at least two primary challengers for the 2022 race.
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.
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.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.