From the moment the House voted to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from her committees two years ago, now-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has pledged retribution.
But perhaps the most direct comparison to the Greene situation is McCarthy’s quest to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And that isn’t proving quite as simple. That’s because it requires a vote of the full House, and some Republicans are balking.
Given the uncertainty — and McCarthy’s claim that he’s simply applying the new standard set by Democrats — it’s worth running through a comparison of the two situations.
One significant difference could be bipartisanship.
While McCarthy attacked Democrats for taking the unprecedented step of removing Greene from her committees — such actions are usually taken by the member’s own party — the effort wound up winning the support of 11 House Republicans. The later removal of Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) from his committees also earned the votes of two Republicans. So it wasn’t strictly Democrats setting the precedent and deciding that these members’ conduct merited such a response.
In Omar’s case, we don’t know how the vote will shake out. Some Democrats — especially Jewish ones — have in the past been highly critical of her use of antisemitic tropes (which we’ll get to). None of them are signaling that they’ll vote with Republicans, but neither did Republicans telegraph their support for removing Greene. Votes like these force uneasy, binary choices.
What seems clear is that this won’t garner a unanimous vote of the GOP conference. Both Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) have signaled that they’ll vote against it, though Mace now appears to be leaving herself some wiggle room. If both follow through, and all Democrats vote against it, McCarthy could lose only one more vote. (Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) is recovering from serious injuries, which lowers McCarthy’s margin to three.)
It would surely be embarrassing for McCarthy to lose such an early vote in his tenure as speaker. But even beyond that personal political calculus, it seems possible that the attempted removal of Omar could be completely partisan in a way Greene’s and Gosar’s weren’t. And it apparently won’t even be unanimously supported by the party pushing the resolution. In that way, this could go beyond the new precedent McCarthy signaled he’d exploit.
Which brings us to the admittedly difficult and subjective task of evaluating the conduct these members are being targeted for.
In Greene’s case, it involved a number of things, including her past promotion of bogus conspiracy theories about 9/11 and mass shootings. But the effort was really touched off by the revelation that her social media accounts had promoted violence against Democrats and federal government officials. (This wound up being the impetus for removing Gosar as well, and that removal came shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.) The conduct mostly occurred before she was elected to the House in 2020.
In Omar’s case, the effort is focused on her past use of antisemitic tropes, most of them while serving in Congress, that earned the rebuke of even many prominent Democrats.
While facing down her removal, Omar has sought to highlight a difference: that she apologized.
That’s true, but only in part. Twice in her first weeks in office in 2019, Omar issued firm apologies for her use of antisemitic tropes — one for saying “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” while discussing the pro-Israel lobby, and one for a 2012 tweet in which she said, “Israel has hypnotized the world.” Omar added that she didn’t fully understand the history of the tropes.
But a month later, she referenced what even some Democrats criticized as another antisemitic trope — that of “dual loyalty,” which Donald Trump has also trafficked in — when she decried powerful forces who “push for allegiance to a foreign country.” This time, Omar declined to apologize and also got some backup from some in her party. The House wound up overwhelmingly passing a symbolic resolution rebuking antisemitism, but without singling out Omar and only after adding rebukes to other forms of bigotry.
By June 2019, Omar was again under fire for lumping “atrocities” committed by the United States and Israel with those committed by Hamas and the Taliban. Her initial response was defiant, even accusing her critics of Islamophobia (Omar is Muslim), before trying to lower the temperature and clarifying her comments. “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” she said.
As for Greene, she was rather unapologetic, even when faced with losing her committees.
In January 2021, CNN unearthed social media posts from 2018 and 2019 in which Greene advocated the executions of prominent Democrats and members of the “deep state.”
Greene responded by saying flatly, “I’ll never apologize.” (McCarthy later claimed she had apologized, but there was no public evidence of that.) She even suggested that the posts might have been done by someone on her team, despite her not having been a member of Congress at the time.
In remarks on the House floor before the vote, she walked back her comments about 9/11 and mass shootings and did express some measure of regret. But she mostly framed the vote as an effort to “cancel” her and offered no direct apology. “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them,” she said, “and that is absolutely what I regret.” Afterward she added, “I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to say the things that I don’t believe and I shouldn’t have said in the first place. And I’m really grateful to my God, because he forgives me.”
During a hearing last year amid an effort to disqualify her from office, she again asserted — without directly saying so — that the social media posts might have been written by someone else. (She has also done things like appearing at a white nationalist’s conference as recently as early 2022 — something she defended — and made several comparisons between domestic political issues and Nazi Germany.)
In other words, Greene has offered only vaguely worded expressions of contrition for unspecific things, and still hasn’t really taken responsibility for the specific social media posts that triggered her removal. Omar has openly apologized for some of the comments at issue, while standing by others.
The task for the House now will be deciding how objectionable their respective conduct and their responses to it have been.