That's booby-trap laden terrain, but one that McCarthy clearly thinks is the best path toward keeping the Republican Party intact — and winning in the 2022 midterms. “This Republican Party's a very big tent,” McCarthy told reporters. “Everyone's invited in. And you look at the last election, we continue to grow — and in two years we'll be in the majority.”
The identity crisis facing Republicans in a post Trump era was encapsulated in the four-hour conference meeting last night, when:
- McCarthy refused to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of her committee assignments. The congresswoman apologized for some of her extremist rhetoric behind closed doors even as she publicly pledged not to back down — virtually ensuring Democrats will proceed today with an unprecedented vote to remove Greene from the House education and budget committees themselves.
- McCarthy also argued strongly on behalf of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, keeping her leadership position even as she also refused to apologize for her break with Trump. The ensuing 145-61 vote supporting Cheney by secret ballot was a resounding defeat for the hard-right wing of the party, our colleagues Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report.
“You elected me leader, let me lead,” McCarthy told Republicans in his closing remarks on Cheney’s behalf, per our colleagues. “The speech prompted an ovation that could be heard from more than 50 feet away outside the room.”
The drama will continue today. With no Republican action against Greene, the House vote on Greene's committee assignments will force Republicans to go on the record — a scenario Republicans have acknowledged could be politically toxic.
- “[McCarthy] is doing great long term damage by not going after her more forcefully,” a GOP strategist told Power Up. “We cannot have legit conspiracy theorists running amok.”
- Of course, not everyone agrees: “The last thing Republicans should be doing is elevating [Greene] and turning her into a martyr with our base — which is what will happen if they continue doing what they’re doing,” a second GOP consultant told us.
- “Like, congrats guys, you just wrote her fundraising appeals for the next two years. Republicans are better off to not take the bait from the media which is obsessed with trying to define the party with a backbench nutty congresswoman who everyone knows has no real power or influence. Instead, ignore her and mock anyone who tries to make her a bigger issue than we all know she really is.”
McCarthy in a statement gave Republicans cover by condemning some of Greene's most controversial remarks but also going on offense — accusing Democratic leaders of taking insufficient action against controversial statements from their own members.
- During the meeting, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) “accused Mr. McCarthy of doing more to defend Ms. Greene than he did to defend Ms. Cheney, calling it ‘embarrassing,’ according to two people familiar with his comments,” the New York Times's Catie Edmondson, Jonathan Martin and Nick Fandos report.
- “Privately, Republican leaders and their aides have sought to rally their members around process arguments, arguing that it would set harmful precedents to punish a member for statements he or she made before joining Congress and to have the majority party remove a minority member from committees without the minority party’s consent,” Mike and P.K. write. “While members are occasionally removed from panels over allegations of misconduct, those decisions are typically made by their own party’s leadership.”
It remains to be seen whether Greene's private apology is enough for Republicans. At the meeting, “Greene had received an ovation of her own after expressing contrition for some of her most outrageous comments made on social media — including questioning the 9/11 attacks, blaming a space ray directed by a Jewish cabal for a deadly wildfire and doubting school shootings. She also, according to Republicans in the room, apologized for putting her colleagues in a difficult spot,” our colleagues note.
But publicly, Greene recently boasted of Trump's continued support and tweeted that she'll “never apologize” for her actions and statements.
- Reminder: “The latest revelations include: videos in which Greene, a Republican, parrots bogus claims by suggesting the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Fla., were staged; a Facebook post that expresses support for a dangerous conspiracy theory about child abuse; and a pattern of online activity approving of the execution of Democratic leaders and federal agents,” per our colleague Reis Thebault.
Some of her colleagues have urged her to take the apology public, and denounce QAnon and recant her extremist views:
- “I want to see more public statements along the lines of what we heard in private. I want to see her do it publicly,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) told CNN's Manu Raju.
- “I think everybody should hear that,” McCarthy said of Greene's private remarks.
- Other had a different take: “Why should she apologize to you all?” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) told reporters. “The American people — they didn't elect her. She was elected by people in Georgia and everybody in Georgia supports her, so.”
Republican lawmakers also continued to claim on Wednesday that Greene and her embrace of conspiracy theories and extremist views is an outlier and not representative of the party: McCarthy's statement said that Greene's remarks “do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference.” And GOP Senators amplified their condemnation of Greene. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) tweeted that Greene was “not conservative but insane.”
However, Greene's national platform is just one indication of how mainstream QAnon and conspiracy theories – including about widespread claims of election fraud – have become in the Republican Party. The GOP's information crisis shows no signs of going away.
- Reminder: “7 in 10 Republicans say [Biden] was not legitimately elected,” our colleagues reported in January. “That suggests that Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud, propagated by many other Republicans, have taken root within the party despite the absence of credible evidence, dozens of failed legal challenges and multiple recounts affirming Biden’s victories in Georgia and Wisconsin.”
DEMOCRATS CLEAR A PATH FOR RELIEF: “House Democrats voted Wednesday to set the stage for party-line approval of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, heeding the president’s calls for swift action on his first big agenda item — but without the bipartisan unity he promised,” our colleagues Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. The vote was 218-212.
- Democrats can go it alone on coronavirus relief since “[the budget bill will] unlock special rules in the Senate allowing Biden’s relief package to pass with a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes usually needed." Democrats control the 50-50 Senate with Vice President Harris as the tie-breaking vote.
By using budget reconciliation to sidestep GOP opposition, Republicans argue that House Democrats have ignored Biden’s promise of bipartisanship. Republicans have called it wish list of liberal packages disguised as a coronavirus relief bill.
But according to a new Quinnipiac poll, most Americans — including some Republicans — support it:
Biden has signaled he's willing to be limit the number of Americans who qualify for a third round of stimulus checks. “The latest proposal Democrats are considering would send $1,400 payments to individuals earning $50,000 or less and $2,800 to married couples earning $100,000 or less,” our colleagues Heather Long and Jeff Stein report.
HAPPENING TODAY: A marathon “vote-a-rama” on some 300 amendments.
- In retaliation for sidestepping GOP opposition, Republicans “will force Democrats to take tough votes on issues ranging from stimulus checks for illegal immigrants to higher taxes on small businesses,” The Hill’s Alexander Bolten reports.
- “Senate Republicans will be ready and waiting with a host of amendments to improve the rushed procedural step that’s being jammed through,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
SCHUMER, MCCONNELL REACH A POWER-SHARING DEAL: “After weeks of negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and McConnell have come to terms on how to run a 50-50 Senate,” our colleagues Donna Cassata and Felicia Sonmez report.
- In an evenly split Senate, Democrats will gain control of the committees. “[This enables] them to move ahead on Biden’s agenda and nominees, most notably his Cabinet and his judicial choices.”
- Schumer: “I am happy to report … that the leadership of both parties have finalized the organizing resolution for the Senate. We will pass the resolution through the Senate today, which means that committees can promptly set up and get to work with Democrats holding the gavels.”
At the White House
EYEING TRUMP'S VISITOR LOGS: “The Biden White House said it cannot unilaterally release visitor logs from the Trump White House, amid questions about whether anyone who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol visited the former president in the days leading up to it,” Politico's Natasha Bertrand reports.
- “The visitor logs have come under renewed scrutiny following the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol complex which left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick.”
- “Some Democrats have raised questions about potential coordination between some of the insurrectionists and elected Republican officials. They have pointed to guided tours of the building that occurred the day before the attack and have demanded an investigation.”
Outside the Beltway
SLOW VACCINE ROLLOUTS: “Vaccination has sped-up across the country but it is struggling to keep pace with expectations as states have widened the pool of eligible recipients,” our Post colleagues report.
55.9 million doses have been distributed, but only 6.7 million Americans have been fully vaccinated.
- “Up to 1 in 7 people [have] received at least their first injection as of Wednesday … At the other end of the rankings, it was 1 in 17,” our colleague Griff Witte reports.
What do states with the highest vaccine rollouts have in common? Simplicity. “One thing that the states moving fastest have in common it is that they have tried to bring at least some measure of order and simplicity to a process otherwise marked by chaos and complexity,” per our colleague.
Such states include Connecticut, South Dakota and West Virginia.
- “West Virginia has tightly coordinated its rollout, using the National Guard to speed supplies to where they are needed while streamlining the rules for who can get the shots.”
- “If you want to know how many cows are in a field, just count the egg-sucking cows. Don’t count the legs and divide by four,” said West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R).
Meanwhile, large states like California, Pennsylvania and Texas continue to struggle with vaccine rollout.
- “The states that have been able to centralize have, in the early weeks, been able to be more efficient. But for some states it’s going to be a really tall order to centralize everything,” Hemi Tewarson, a fellow at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, told Griff.
CANADA NAMES PROUD BOYS A ‘TERRORIST ENTITY’: “Canada formally designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist group under its criminal law on Wednesday, a move that could lead to financial seizures and allow police to treat any crimes committed by members as terrorist activity,” the New York Times’s Ian Austen reports.
- “Those potential crimes include providing a terrorist group with funds or other assistance — such as purchasing Proud Boys paraphernalia or clothing from the group.”
- “Additionally, authorities have more power to remove its online posts, add its members to the no-fly list and deny entry at the border to group members who are not Canadian.”
Canada is the first country to designate the far-right group with a history of violence as a terrorist entity, prompting the U.S. to take a closer look.
- “White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration's national security team is taking ‘a look at violence and this type of concerning group activity across the country,’” MarketWatch's Victor Reklaitis reports.
- “In 2018, the FBI designated the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism,” NPR's Bill Chappell reports.
THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN SECRETARY OF THE SENATE: “Sonceria ‘Ann’ Berry was named secretary of the Senate on Wednesday, becoming the first African American to serve in the role since its creation in 1789,” our colleagues Felicia Sonmez and Paul Kane report. She starts March 1.
What will she do? “The secretary of the Senate oversees a range of offices tasked with ensuring the chamber’s daily business runs smoothly, including the maintenance of Senate records, payroll distribution and the acquisition of supplies.”
- “I have had the privilege of working in the U.S. Senate for 40 years serving the American people," Berry said. I am humbled by this opportunity to continue that service as Secretary of the Senate. It will be an honor to work with Senators and staff on behalf of the country to advance our common goal of representing this great nation.”