Republican recriminations point to a rocky path to a House majority

Written By: Jonathan Weisman © 2021 The New York Times The New York Times
Washington Published: Dec 01, 2021, 11:55 PM(IST)

At the US Capitol, a group of bipartisan senators met on Monday morning in search of a deal but came out disagreeing on whether progress was made. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Initially prompted by the anti-Muslim comments of Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, the Republican-on-Republican war of words Tuesday was remarkably bitter and an indication of a brewing power struggle between an ascendant faction that styles itself after former President Donald Trump and a quieter one that is pushing back

Hostilities between the Republican far right and its typically muted center burst into the open Tuesday, highlighting deep divisions that could bedevil the party’s leaders if they capture a narrow majority in the House in 2022.

Initially prompted by the anti-Muslim comments of Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, the Republican-on-Republican war of words Tuesday was remarkably bitter and an indication of a brewing power struggle between an ascendant faction that styles itself after former President Donald Trump and a quieter one that is pushing back.

First, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia called her freshman colleague Nancy Mace of South Carolina “trash” for condemning Boebert’s remarks in a television interview.

Mace then used a series of emojis — a bat, a pile of excrement and a crazy clown — to describe Greene, then kept up a steady stream of social media attacks, calling her a liar, a grifter and a nut.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, came to Mace’s defense, calling Greene “unserious circus barker McSpacelaser” — a reference to a social media post that she once circulated suggesting that wildfires in the West had been started by lasers owned by the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family.

Kinzinger added that Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader and would-be speaker who has done nothing to discipline rank-and-file members of his conference for bigoted and violent statements, “continues his silent streak that would make a monk blush.”

Then Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, an ally of Greene’s, took to Twitter to amplify an attack by right-wing provocateur Jack Posobiec denouncing Mace as a “scam artist” for promoting coronavirus vaccinations on CNN.

The carnivallike behavior would amount to little more than a sideshow if it did not have real implications for midterm campaigns and, possibly, a fractured Republican majority in 2023. Party leaders again chose to remain mum as their backbenchers brawled, and Democrats took full advantage of the spectacle.

“The atmosphere is what it has been and what has been created by the Republican Party over the last 50 years, where they have continued to move down the path of divisiveness, of acrimony, of threats and accusations, which have demeaned the politics of America,” Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the majority leader, told reporters.

He again called on Republican leaders to discipline their members, referring to the episode that touched off the hostilities: public comments by Boebert in which she suggested that Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Muslim who wears a hijab, could be a suicide bomber and called her a member of the “jihad squad.”

The House’s three Muslim lawmakers — Omar and Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and André Carson of Indiana, all Democrats — suggested that their party was looking at options to sanction Boebert.

“Muslims in this country are proud Americans, hardworking members of our community,” Carson said. “And we are not anyone’s scapegoat.”

These should be heady days for House Republicans. Off-year elections in November showed real disenchantment with Democratic control of the House, Senate and White House. Redistricting in Republican-controlled state legislatures has given the party a running start to win the four or five seats it needs to control the House, and polling suggests that a narrow plurality of Americans would rather have Republicans in control of Congress. Given the party’s structural advantages on redistricting, access to polls and enthusiasm, that suggests a much broader victory would be at hand if the voting were today.

Michael Steel, a former spokesperson for Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, a former Republican speaker, said the party’s leaders should be working behind the scenes to calm dissent and keep members focused on building a platform and an argument for control.

“The top priority right now should be for everyone in the canoe to have their rifles pointing outward, not at each other,” Steel said. “And the focus should be on addition, not subtraction. That means keeping all the frogs in the wheelbarrow, even if some of those frogs are pretty ugly.”

Instead, Republicans are stepping on their own message. On Tuesday, CNN unearthed another video of Boebert from September, when she said she turned to Omar and referred to the “jihad squad,” again insinuating that she could be a suicide bomber.

Omar has said that no such confrontation occurred. During a call initiated by Boebert Monday — ostensibly to offer contrition — the situation only devolved further, as Boebert refused to apologize and instead demanded that Omar publicly ask forgiveness for “anti-American” comments.

Democrats were not the only ones who condemned Boebert’s behavior. Mace, a highly regarded newcomer and the first woman to graduate from the Citadel military college, appeared on CNN to say, “I have time after time condemned my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for racist tropes and remarks that I find disgusting, and this is no different than any others.”

Greene, who like Boebert is a favorite of Trump’s, criticized Mace on social media and on Steve Bannon’s broadcast, “War Room,” and condemned Republican leaders.

“They’re always all over us whenever we say or do anything, but it’s the Nancy Maces that should be called out,” Greene told Bannon. She added that she, not Mace, represented the Republican base, a comment seconded by others on the far right, including Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona.

Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., defended Mace.

“Nancy is a serious legislator who rolls up her sleeves and looks for solutions where they can be found, such as federal cannabis decriminalization, but also digs in and fights when progressives put politics above policy,” Meijer said. “I can’t think of a single credible thing those attacking her have even tried to accomplish.”

Republican leaders were left pointing fingers at their Democratic counterparts, who they said had also taken no action against members who had crossed lines, whether through anti-Israel comments or exhortations to protesters that they said encouraged violence.

Hoyer did say that McCarthy reached out to him to say Boebert wanted to apologize to Omar, an overture that Hoyer said would not end well. He was proved correct.

McCarthy finds himself in a delicate position. He does not know how large a majority his party might win in November, especially since much of the redistricting has focused on shoring up incumbent advantages than creating more competitive races. A sweeping Republican win would allow him to write off the votes of his party’s fringe.

But if Republicans claim a narrow majority, McCarthy would need virtually all of the conference’s votes to claim the speakership, a prize he has sought for nearly a decade. The far right brought down Boehner in 2015, and Republican divisions over the prospects of McCarthy’s speakership sunk his last run for the post weeks later.

A handful of members, including Greene, have been cool to the idea of granting him the gavel should his party claim the majority.
 

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