And the time for half-measures has passed.
I served on the Committee on Standards and Official Conduct — more commonly called the Ethics Committee — during my time in Congress. There is no question that the committee can and should investigate Greene and consider every formal sanction for her behavior, from a reprimand, to censure, to a fine, to removal. Some argue the committee works too slowly to effectively address Greene’s behavior. But it does not have to be slow; it can be both fair and expeditious, as it must be to prevent additional harm to any member. The committee also need not wait for a formal letter or complaint, or a resolution from the House. It can act on its own on the basis of a news report, social media post or anything else that comes into its attention. By design, the committee is equally divided between the parties, but its process can work on matters of serious concern.
Greene’s continued harassment of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is such a serious matter. She has verbally accosted Ocasio-Cortez on and off the floor of the chamber. She has engaged inappropriately with other members as well, including Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who took the extraordinary step of asking to have her office moved following a verbal altercation in January. Greene has repeatedly accused Ocasio-Cortez, Bush and other women of color in the House of supporting terrorists — a dangerous and inflammatory smear at a perilous moment in our politics.
We’ve been down this road once already. By the time the House stripped Greene of her committee assignments in February, she had amassed an encyclopedia of complaints about her views and comportment. The revelation that she had expressed support for violence against Democrats in the years prior to her election should have been the last straw in a Congress shaken by the actual violence on Jan. 6. But she was given a lifeline. Most people would feel chastened if their colleagues said: “We won’t throw you out of school, but you’re not welcome in our clubs.” Not Greene. She seized on it as a fundraising opportunity.
Take a close look at Greene’s district and you’ll find a lot that an engaged member could work on for her constituents. Whether the measure is median or per capita income, Georgia’s 14th District lags both nationally and in the state — 8.5 percent of its families live in poverty. Had she not been kicked off, Greene could have put in some useful legwork on the Education and Labor Committee. She might still focus her energy on making sure the frighteningly high number of deteriorating dams in her state get what they need in the upcoming infrastructure package.
Instead, she spends her time loudly challenging Ocasio-Cortez to absurd policy debates. It so happens there is a way to engage in policy debates in Congress: Introduce legislation, participate in hearings and get a bill onto the House floor. Indeed, most members, even Republicans, will not co-sponsor Greene’s legislation, and they are not likely to seek her signature on their own bills — a sure sign of that she’s an outcast.
But the problem runs deeper than her ineffectiveness. Greene’s continued presence casts a stain on a beleaguered institution. Democrats have to work alongside Republican colleagues who want to rewrite the history of Jan. 6; they must show up to a workplace where they experienced violence and trauma. Many members, including Ocasio-Cortez, have enhanced security because they have been targets of vitriolic attacks by the likes of Greene.
For those who suggest that Greene’s behavior is yet another sign of a lack of civility and bipartisanship — stop. Her behavior has nothing to do with coming to consensus on vital issues such as infrastructure or police reform. Congress has rules of procedure and conduct. Greene has egregiously violated them. And given how she has responded to the loss of her committee assignments, Greene is unlikely to behave differently after a new reprimand. Who can doubt she’d welcome it as one more opportunity for infamy?
Greene’s behavior belongs in the annals of “don’t do this on your job.” Her fate would not be in question in any other workplace in America. It should not be a debate in Congress.