Kevin McCarthy got exactly what he wanted through the Marjorie Taylor Greene vote

Hearing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy rail against a House resolution to strip committee assignments from a QAnon-supporting freshman member who once advocated for the death of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one might come away with the impression that he very much opposed what became a bipartisan 230-199 vote to remove Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene from her seats on the Education and Budget committees.

“Never before in the history of this House has the majority abused its power in this way,” he declared in a fiery speech, while warning his Democratic colleagues that Republicans could just as easily take the same actions — which he described as a “partisan power grab” — against them if he were ever to become Speaker.

Greene, who is just one of two supporters of the QAnon mass delusion currently serving in the House, drew scrutiny for a series of absurd statements and claims. Those ranged from accusing the Rothschilds of starting wildfires with some sort of Jewish space laser, to accusing Speaker Pelosi of “treason,” to just days ago describing Americans who do not support ex-President Trump as pedophiles. The latter claim is another mainstay of the QAnon mythology, in which the former president is presented as a savior-like figure who will bring about the mass executions of prominent Democrats, journalists, actors, and other well-known figures.

While McCarthy said many of Greene’s statements — most made before she was elected to Congress — “do not represent the values of my party”, he still condemned the very idea of voting to remove her from committee posts as “cynical” and “hypocritical”. He also cited a number of controversial statements made by Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota (a Black Muslim woman who was a frequent Trump target) and House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters of California.

But a number of current and former House staffers — as well as a prominent historian of the House — say that in their opinion, McCarthy’s opposition to Thursday’s vote to remove Greene from her committee assignments was all for show. Instead, the entire exercise was meant to goad Democrats into giving him a weapon to entrench one-party Republican rule by targeting their members wholesale if he is ever permitted to hold power.

“Kevin is just about as happy as a pig in s**t right now,” said one House veteran, an aide to a long-serving Republican member who called the events of the past few days an “entirely predictable” exercise that will be cited in the future as a failure by Democrats to think in the longer term.

Kurt Bardella, a former aide to Republican Representative Darrell Issa, suggested that McCarthy got exactly what he wanted by Greene being voted off committees without his support.

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“He allowed the Democrats to do his dirty work for him rather than address it directly. As the Republican leader, he instead gets the outcome he wanted — which is her off committees — but without him being the instrument that actually did it,” Bardella said. “He got to save face with the base, he doesn’t draw any fire from Trumpists, and he gets to say that Democrats did this, even though he probably wanted this outcome.”

While McCarthy had not been willing to remove Greene from all committee posts in the same way he did two years after former Iowa Representative Steve King made a series of public statement defending white supremacy, he had offered Democrats an off-ramp from Thursday’s vote earlier this week. At the time, he proposed removing her from the Education and Labor Committee, on account of her previously having made baseless claims that school shootings in Parkland, Florida and Newtown, Connecticut were hoaxes perpetuated by anti-gun forces.

But Hoyer rejected McCarthy’s offer outright on Wednesday, setting up Thursday’s unprecedented vote before the full House membership.

Asked about the Democratic Leader’s decision, another House aide — one who works for a Democrat and who was not authorized to speak publicly — expressed surprise about the lack of political savvy it appeared to display.

“He [Hoyer] got rolled, and that’s something you don’t see that often,” they said. “In hindsight, I think he let the emotions of the caucus push him a bit more than he would ordinarily let himself be pushed.”

Such a miscalculation has significantly raised the stakes of future elections because of the GOP’s propensity to abuse power, they said: “After this, we can never afford to lose the majority again.”

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, posited that McCarthy’s refusal to take any action was possibly deliberate, meant to goad Democrats into giving him the precedent for future revenge.

“We’ve seen that the Republicans have often weaponized the kind of mechanisms that are intended to make Congress better or create more accountability and use them for partisan gain,” he said. “The fact that Republicans decided not to really do anything about their Congresswoman Greene problem suggests that the scenario [of letting Democrats give them the power to remove minority members from committees] wouldn’t be outrageous in their mind.”

Bardella, the former House staffer, agreed that McCarthy’s handling of the entire matter appears deliberate and calculated.

“He wanted Democrats to do what he was too afraid to do — remove Greene from committees — and a political boogeyman to blame so it wouldn’t fall on him, which is what he got,” he said. “And he wanted the precedent so that he can exercise the same power without any limitation or reservation if he ever has a Speaker’s gavel.”

Zelizer added that it was highly unlikely that GOP reluctance to punish Greene had anything to do with the support she has claimed to be receiving from former President Trump, and that future abuse of the procedure carried out on Thursday will be consistent with how the Republican Party operates now.

“To understand this party is really to see a party that looks at every possible way to take normal procedures and rules and use them in uber-aggressive fashion. If you give them a kind of thin precedent that can be taken out of context, they will run with that and they’ll use it,” he suggested. “And my guess is, that’s appetizing for McCarthy.”

And while McCarthy named a number of prominent Democrats — including Omar, Waters, and California Representative Eric Swalwell — who might be targets for revenge under a Republican majority, Bardella predicted that a future GOP majority might go so far as to strip committee memberships from every Democratic ranking member on every House committee, starting with prominent non-white members. Such retaliatory action, he said, could come as soon as a future Democratic caucus names their committee members in a new Congress.