Top House Republicans on Tuesday condemned freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene after she spent days comparing vaccine and mask requirements to the Holocaust.
But GOP leaders stopped short of calling for any disciplinary action, illustrating how Republicans have struggled to rein in the most radical elements of their party — an issue that will only continue to plague the GOP in the looming battle for control of the House.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who defended the Georgia Republican earlier this year when Democrats stripped her of committee assignments for her incendiary rhetoric, called her latest comments “wrong” and “appalling” and said the GOP conference was behind him.
“Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling. The Holocaust is the greatest atrocity committed in history,” the California Republican said in a statement. “The fact that this needs to be stated today is deeply troubling.”
But McCarthy went on to accuse Speaker Nancy Pelosi of ignoring antisemitic sentiment in her own ranks — something that Democrats dismissed as little more than an attempt to distract from his own conference’s internal issues.
Democrats passed an anti-hate resolution in 2019 in response to remarks made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) that were widely seen as antisemitic, and multiple top Democrats spoke out against Omar’s remarks at the time. During this spring’s conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas, however, members of Pelosi’s party took notable steps to elevate the rights of Palestinians that broke from decades of unquestioning bipartisan support for the Israeli government, exposing a rift among Democrats and the GOP alike.
“At a time when the Jewish people face increased violence and threats, anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Democrat Party and is completely ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” McCarthy said.
The No. 2 House Republican also sharply criticized Greene for her comments. Lauren Fine, a spokesperson for House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, said he “does not agree with these comments and condemns these comparisons to the Holocaust.”
Scalise’s spokesperson added a similar rejoinder to McCarthy’s about bias rising on the other side of the aisle: “We also need to be speaking out strongly against the dangerous antisemitism that is growing in our streets and in the Democrat Party, resulting in an alarming number of horrific violent attacks against Jews.”
The rare rebuke from GOP leaders comes as Greene has refused to back down on her comparisons of mask requirements by House Democratic leaders to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. She went further with a tweet on Tuesday morning, comparing vaccination efforts to the Holocaust: “Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s forced Jewish people to wear a gold star.”
Her initial comments were denounced by several Republicans, such as Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who had broken from their party over the impeachment of former President Donald Trump. But Greene’s decision to double down on Tuesday prodded McCarthy and Scalise to finally break their silence.
Kinzinger went further Tuesday, telling POLITICO that Republicans should boot her from the conference “to prevent her from coming to conference meetings, benefiting from conference materials.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously compared Greene to a “cancer” in the GOP, told a CNN reporter on Tuesday of her latest remarks: “Once again an outrageous and reprehensible comment.”
After facing widespread condemnation from her own party on Tuesday, Greene defended her remarks and blamed the “media” and “American left” for stoking outrage.
The “attempts to shame, ostracize, and brand Americans who choose not to get vaccinated or wear a mask are reminiscent of the great tyrants of history who did the same to those who would not comply,” she tweeted.
Greene, who has been a lightning rod for controversy, has already been stripped of her committee assignments for suggesting some of the nation’s deadliest school shootings were a hoax and endorsing social media posts that called for violence against Democrats. But McCarthy and House Republicans stood by her then, arguing that the comments at issue were made before she came to Congress.
Yet Greene has continued to create fresh headaches for her party’s leaders since arriving in Congress as McCarthy has struggled to keep her in line. Greene also recently came under fire for harassing Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) over her transgender daughter and aggressively confronting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in the Capitol hallways. That dust-up renewed Democratic calls to expel Greene, but doing so would require support from a two-thirds majority in the House — an extremely high bar that is unlikely to happen.
House Democratic leaders have been discussing for weeks how to handle Greene’s troubling pattern of behavior. That includes a recent discussion among Democratic leadership in which lawmakers discussed possible legal outcomes for the Georgia Republican, though nothing has been settled at this point.
For Ocasio-Cortez — who was previously harassed by Greene in 2019 — top Democrats have discussed whether it’s possible for Ocasio-Cortez to seek a restraining order against Greene, including whether she had the legal standing to do so, according to multiple Democratic sources. Pelosi and other top Democrats have also called for an ethics investigation both publicly and privately, though the House Ethics Committee has not disclosed the existence of any such probe.
Democrats also acknowledge that punishing Greene is a complex issue: They want to hold her accountable without simply emboldening her public stunts — and her fundraising. Top Democrats have not ruled out a vote on a measure such as a censure, though the House will not be back in session until mid-June.
Asked about Greene’s latest remarks comparing the mask mandate to the Holocaust, Pelosi called the comments “beyond reprehensible” and said “it has no place in our country.”
Asked whether she should be censured or expelled, Pelosi said Greene “should stop talking.”
Some Republicans have urged their party leaders to more forcefully distance the GOP from the most radical elements in their ranks. McCarthy did immediately push back last month after reports surfaced that Greene and others were planning to form a right wing caucus in the House, with a prospective policy platform that called for respecting “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”
But so far, McCarthy and top leaders have shown little appetite to go beyond the public condemnations and actually excommunicate Greene and other extremists. And McCarthy, reluctant to alienate the Trump wing of the party, did little to stop Greene from winning her primary last year even after POLITICO uncovered a string of racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic Facebook videos she had made.
The House GOP did, however, recently oust Cheney from leadership for repeatedly calling out Trump and his lies about the election — a split screen that Democrats are eager to seize on in the midterms, hoping to yoke the entire GOP to Greene.
“Kevin who? Marjorie Taylor Greene is running the House Republican Conference,” tweeted House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill added in a statement: “Leader McCarthy waited days to even issue a statement in response to one of his Members demeaning the Holocaust, and he clearly intends to continue to welcome Marjorie Taylor Greene in the GOP and shield her from any real consequence or accountability for her antisemitism.”
Greene, meanwhile, has refused to apologize for her remarks, saying instead in a tweet: “I’m sorry some of my words make people uncomfortable, but this is what the American left is all about.”
Greene also retweeted, and then quickly deleted, a post on Twitter calling McCarthy a “moron” and “feckless c**t.”
Nicholas Wu and Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.