GOP leader won’t condemn Greene, Gosar with cameras rolling
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday refused an on-camera chance to condemn a pair of far-right lawmakers for their weekend participation in a white nationalist conference in Florida, where Russian President Vladimir Putin was a celebrated figure.
A day earlier, in the private halls of the Capitol, the Republican leader told a pair of reporters it was “unacceptable” that Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) made appearances at the America First Political Action Conference organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes three days earlier.
But with the cameras rolling at a House GOP leadership press conference Tuesday, McCarthy refused to engage in discussion about rebuking Greene and Gosar any further.
“I’ve already commented on that,” McCarthy said, before quickly pivoting to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Moments later, McCarthy abruptly ended a small press gaggle in the hallway outside the press conference as soon as the reporter questions shifted from Ukraine to whether Greene and Gosar belonged in the House GOP conference.
“I answered that yesterday,” McCarthy said and walked away.
McCarthy’s reticence blunted his condemnations of a day earlier, suggesting there’s little appetite among GOP leaders to take on the far-right wing of the party, even those who dabble in race-based extremism. It also highlights the delicate line McCarthy is walking as he seeks to win control of the House in November and seize the Speaker’s gavel next year — an objective that will require him to keep the favor of former President Trump.
On one hand, GOP leaders want to keep the focus on the policies of President Biden, whose approval numbers are underwater amid a spike in inflation, a surge in migrants at the southern border and an escalating crisis in Ukraine, where Russian forces are inching closer to Kyiv. On the other, Republicans want to tap into the energy of their conservative base voters who are animated by the culture war agenda that thrust Trump into the White House in 2016 and won him more than 70 million votes in 2020.
It was that platform of cultural grievance that took center stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend — and at the America First event that’s generated the latest controversy for McCarthy and Republicans.
Yet McCarthy still faced pressure to speak out publicly to rein in the more controversial elements of his conference, after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel distanced themselves in recent days.
McCarthy told the two reporters in the Capitol on Monday evening that he planned to speak with Greene and Gosar about their participation in the conference.
“There’s no place in our party for any of this,” he said.
Yet Greene and Gosar remain, without any formal sanction from GOP leaders.
By contrast, the Arizona state Senate voted Tuesday to censure Republican state Sen. Wendy Rogers for participating in Fuentes’s event. Eleven Republicans approved of the historic reprimand.
House Democrats — and a handful of Republicans — already voted to strip Greene and Gosar of their committee assignments last year for promoting the notion of violence against their political opponents.
That was the same punishment McCarthy used against former Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in 2019 for questioning, in a New York Times interview, why the terms white nationalism and white supremacy were considered offensive. But McCarthy opposed taking committee seats away from Greene and Gosar and has vowed to restore them if Republicans win back the House.
Greene, for her part, told The Hill on Tuesday afternoon that she still hadn’t spoken with McCarthy.
McCarthy, a day earlier, said Greene should have backed out of her appearance after hearing Fuentes’s remarks as he introduced her to the crowd.
Just minutes before introducing Greene, Fuentes said his organization’s “secret sauce” is “young white men”; declared that “America and the world has forgotten about them, but not us”; and asked the crowd to “give a round of applause for Russia.” Attendees then chanted the Russian president’s name: “Putin! Putin!”
“With that introduction, you should have walked off stage,” McCarthy said.
But Greene maintained that she wasn’t listening to Fuentes’s remarks. She also insisted, “I don’t know him,” even though she shook hands with him as she took the podium.
“I’m not associated with any of his comments. I don’t believe those things. I’m only responsible for my words and my words only,” Greene said in a brief interview outside the House chamber before boarding an elevator.
Greene attended the conference in person, as she did at the Conservative Political Action Conference that was also held in Orlando, Fla., over the weekend.
Gosar spoke at the America First conference last year as well, but this time he participated via a pre-recorded video.
Gosar’s office did not respond when asked Tuesday if he had spoken with McCarthy.
Democrats, meanwhile, have pounced on both Greene and Gosar, for their participation in the fringe conference, and GOP leaders for their tepid reprimand of members associating with white nationalists.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a liberal firebrand representing parts of Queens and the Bronx, blasted McCarthy this week, accusing the Republican leader of indulging racism within his ranks.
“Doesn’t want to alienate his base,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Tuesday in response to McCarthy dodging the question at the GOP press conference about Greene and Gosar.
And after McCarthy spoke on the House floor Tuesday criticizing Biden’s handling of the Ukraine crisis, House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) retorted that he had no standing.
“Look, I also wish, because I think it would be helpful for this country and a signal to the world, if the gentleman who just spoke would reprimand members of his own party who cozy up to white nationalists and go to pro-Putin rallies,” McGovern said.
“That would send a signal to people in this country and to people around the world whose side we’re on.”
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