Top congressional leaders condemned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Tuesday after the Georgia Republican compared a supermarket’s face-mask policy to the Nazi practice of labeling Jews with Star of David badges.
A previous version of this story misidentified the state represented by Democratic Rep. Bradley Schneider. He is a representative from Illinois. The article has been corrected.
Tuesday’s controversy also demonstrated how Greene has become mostly immune to public derision and the scorn of her peers, using her social media accounts to instead double down on her extreme rhetoric even after her party’s leaders denounced it. Her statements and response to the criticism also raised questions about the mostly hands-off approach that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Republicans have taken toward Greene and whether they will now take any punitive action.
“Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s forced Jewish people to wear a gold star,” Greene tweeted early Tuesday morning, linking to a news story on a Tennessee supermarket chain’s decision to include a special logo on the name badges of vaccinated employees. (The Nazi badges were yellow.)
McCarthy issued a statement calling the Holocaust “the greatest atrocity committed in history” and condemning Greene’s analogy on behalf of the House Republican Conference.
“Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling,” he said, before suggesting that the other party was primarily responsible for a rising tide of antisemitism. “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.”
No elected Democrats recently have made any similar comparison, and prominent party leaders have condemned a recent spate of antisemitic attacks. Democrats are increasingly split on how to approach U.S. policy toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but lawmakers on both sides of the issue have denounced antisemitism.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters that Greene’s comments were “beyond reprehensible” and had “no place in our country.” A spokesman, Drew Hammill, also criticized McCarthy for trying to tie Democrats to the controversy.
“Speaker Pelosi has for decades spoken out against antisemitism and antisemitic attacks, including just yesterday,” Hammill said in a statement that said McCarthy “clearly intends to continue to welcome Marjorie Taylor Greene in the GOP and shield her from any real consequence or accountability for her antisemitism.”
The remarks also drew a rebuke from Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the first Jewish Senate majority leader. “These are sickening, reprehensible comments, and she should stop this vile language immediately,” he said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also condemned the statements as “absolutely outrageous and reprehensible,” while declining to weigh in on how his party ought to deal with Greene. Asked about the comments, Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) said, “I’m just happy she doesn’t serve in the Senate.”
Following the widespread condemnations Tuesday, Greene posted tweets explaining, but not apologizing for, her remarks. Echoing McCarthy, she accused the media and others of seeking to hide “the disgusting anti-semitism within the Democrat Party.”
“Their 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 wrote.
The fallout could linger for weeks.
Rep. Bradley Schneider (D-Ill.), who is Jewish, said Tuesday he would introduce a bill censuring Greene for her remarks before the House returns to session next month. Censure is a severe reprimand that has been invoked only five times in the past century, most recently in 2010 against Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) for financial misdeeds.
In an interview Tuesday, Schneider said the House needs to send a strong message that her rhetoric was unacceptable, and he criticized Republicans for not acting more quickly to marginalize her.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene has now come to define the Republican Party, and their failure to condemn her earlier this year in effect empowered her. They are associated with her comments,” Schneider said. “Leader McCarthy did say [Greene] is wrong, but he needs to cut this out of the Republican conference, otherwise she is the face of the conference and represents what the conference stands for.”
Schneider also rejected the suggestion from McCarthy and other Republicans that antisemitism was a more pressing problem for Democrats than for Republicans, comparing their response to a “schoolyard chant” and calling on the GOP to do some “soul-searching.”
“It sounds a lot like an ‘I am rubber, you are glue’ type of response,” he said. “Everyone is entitled to advocate for their position or their side but when it crosses the line into hate speech or violence, I don’t care where it comes from, it’s wrong.”
Tuesday’s tweets came four days after Greene used a similar Nazi comparison to criticize Pelosi and the continued mask mandate on the House floor.
“We can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens — so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany, and this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about,” Greene said in an interview with the online right-wing news outlet Real America’s Voice.
While the interview generated some backlash after it published Friday, the Tuesday morning tweet suggested that Greene was not cowed by the criticism, and within hours, she attacked two Jewish journalists who criticized her statements.
“I never compared it to the Holocaust, only the discrimination against Jews in early Nazi years,” she said, quoting a tweet from conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. Greene later called Punchbowl News’s Jake Sherman a “liar” and accused him of being “all in for this sick Socialism just like good little state run media.”
McCarthy’s new condemnation of Greene’s rhetoric comes nearly four months after he rallied House Republicans against a Democratic move to sideline Greene by removing her from her committee assignments.
At the time, McCarthy condemned Greene’s comments, largely made before she was elected to Congress, in which she embraced the extremist QAnon ideology, promoted antisemitic falsehoods and questioned whether school shootings had actually taken place. But McCarthy refused to move himself to strip Greene of her two committee seats then blasted Democrats for acting unilaterally — shattering the long-standing precedent of allowing each party to determine its own members’ assignments.
The House voted largely along party lines in February to remove Greene from her committee assignments anyway. The move did little to silence Greene, who said afterward that she had been “freed” to push her party further to the right.
Greene announced in April that she had raised $3.1 million in the first three months of 2021, a record for a House freshman in a nonelection year.
Earlier this month, Greene aggressively confronted Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and falsely accused her of supporting “terrorists,” leading the New York congresswoman’s office to call on leadership to ensure that Congress remains “a safe, civil place for all Members and staff.”
Before McCarthy spoke out Tuesday morning, one of his longtime political allies and advisers went on Twitter to denounce Greene and her comments.
“WTF is wrong with you?” tweeted Jeff Miller, a prominent GOP lobbyist and a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council. “I think you need to pay a visit to the US Holocaust Museum. I’d be happy to arrange. Then maybe going forward you wouldn’t make anymore disgusting, ignorant and offensive tweets.”
Greene’s latest comments also drew a condemnation from the No. 2 House Republican, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.). Like McCarthy, he sought to divert attention to Democrats.
“He does not agree with these comments and condemns these comparisons to the Holocaust,” said Lauren Fine, a Scalise spokeswoman. “We also need to be speaking out strongly against the dangerous anti-Semitism that is growing in our streets and in the Democrat party, resulting in an alarming number of horrific violent attacks against Jews.”
Besides Schneider’s censure push, House Democrats could pursue even more aggressive measures. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) filed an expulsion resolution in March and has threatened to force a House vote on it. It would be unlikely to pass without the backing of Republican leaders, however, because it requires a two-thirds majority to pass, while Schneider’s censure resolution could pass with a simple majority.
No immediate action is likely in any case: The House recessed last week and is not expected to meet again until June 14.
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.