Recalling how Congress seated Confederate soldiers after the Civil War, Rep. Darrell Issa voted Thursday to let Republican colleague and conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene stay on her House committees.
But Democrats prevailed 230-199 on House Resolution 72, which stripped the QAnon sympathizing Georgian from the education and budget panels. Eleven Republicans voted with the majority.
Four other members of the San Diego County delegation — all Democrats — voted to remove Greene, including Rep. Sara Jacobs, who last week co-authored a resolution calling for the censure and resignation of Greene. H.R. 83 was referred to the House ethics committee Monday.
Hours before the vote, Issa spoke for about 2 1/2 minutes in opposing the resolution — but didn’t mention Greene’s conspiracy and cult-backing theories or social media remarks backing assassinations of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats.
“We cannot and should not judge people by what they have done before they arrive” in Congress, said Issa, who introduced himself as “the oldest freshman in my class.”
After noting the presence of Southern soldiers in Congress after the Civil War, Issa said: “The famous Sen.[Richard] Byrd was a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan before he was a member of these bodies. … We should not tell the minority (party) who they can seat.”
Running over his allotted two minutes but granted extra time, the 50th District rep told Democrats they’re allowed, as “part of … free speech,” to shame and disparage their opponents for giving “somebody” a committee assignment.
But less clear was Issa’s reference to another member of Congress.
“We have not and should not … hold people responsible for actions before the people of their home state elected them and their secretary of state certified them and they came here,” he said.
“In so doing, we could pick a plethora of people not to seat or not to give committees to. On the other side of the aisle is a gentlemen who I respect who I served with for my entire time in office who was impeached and removed from office by this very body but yet has served honorably here for more than two decades — and sits at a high position on many committees.”
Issa was referring to Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, who was impeached as a federal judge and convicted in 1989 of taking bribes.
(Hastings, a Democrat, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel via email that Issa’s comment about him wasn’t relevant to the debate over Greene. “While I appreciate Mr. Issa’s reference in his speech. The debate on the floor was pertaining to” the rule governing House consideration of the Greene issue, Hastings said, adding: “It’s clear that her behavior is dangerous and only fans the flames of hate and the lawlessness our nation witnessed during the Jan. 6th domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol. This is not behavior befitting of a Member of Congress and she should not be given a platform to continue spreading her lies.”)
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Drew Godinich raked Issa in a statement.
“Today Rep. Issa caved to the extremist and dangerous online conspiracy within his party that resulted in the storming of the Capitol and the murder of a police officer and the maiming of dozens of others,” he said. “Instead of standing with members of his own party and those across the aisle and holding Marjorie Taylor Greene accountable, Issa chose to reward her — and Issa owns whatever comes next.”
Tuesday night, Greene privately apologized to House GOP for how her statements may have hurt fellow Republicans, saying that 9/11 and school shootings did happen.
She said she embraced QAnon during a dark period of her life but has since moved forward.
“In a display of just how embedded she is in the House GOP, she received a standing ovation,” Vox reported.
Republicans meeting behind closed doors Tuesday night decided not to take action against Greene, who has propagated a series of unfounded conspiracy theories and voiced support for violence against Democratic lawmakers.
Republicans in the room said Greene apologized for those comments.
“Anybody who advocates assassinations of members of Congress or anybody, I don’t believe should enjoy the privilege of serving on a committee,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said after the House Rules Committee voted to advance the motion. He said she should resign or be expelled from Congress.
Republicans said voters, not lawmakers, should decide whether to punish her for those remarks.
“They’re going to judge her on things that were said that she has now denounced, before she was ever a member of Congress,” said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.
Greene, 46, took office just last month.
After Thursday’s vote, Rep. Jacobs said in a statement: “I fully supported the action to remove Congresswoman Greene from her committee assignments and believe that she should also be censured and resign from Congress immediately. There must be strong and swift accountability for those who incite and promote political violence.”
In a test of unity for a House Republican caucus riven by division, nearly 95 percent of Republicans voted to oppose the punishment after Greene expressed regret for remarks made before she entered office but failed to apologize.
“I have never encountered a situation like the one before us now, where a member has made such vile and hurtful statements, engaged in the harassment of colleagues and expressed support for political violence,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said before the vote.
“This is not about party. It’s about whether or not you will vote for decency and truth.”
Hoyer walked across the House floor, holding up a campaign photo showing Greene with an assault rifle next to three Democratic congresswomen — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — and calling her their “worst nightmare.”
The vote to punish Greene, a first-term lawmaker from Georgia and ally of former President Trump, came a day after the chamber’s Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, opted not to reprimand her.
Republicans mainly attacked the resolution as a “partisan power grab” by Democrats and warned that punishing lawmakers for statements made before they entered office would set a dangerous House precedent.
McCarthy accused Pelosi of hypocrisy for not taking similar action against Democrats for controversial remarks and warned that Thursday’s vote would rebound on Democrats once Republicans retake the majority.
“You’ll regret this,” McCarthy said. “If people are held to what they have said prior to even being in this House, if the majority gets to decide who sits on … committees, I hope you keep that standard, because we have a long list.
Hours before the vote, Greene delivered a speech on the House floor disavowing some of her previous statements.
“These were words of the past and these things do not represent me, they do not represent my (congressional) district and they do not represent my values,” Greene said.
“I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true, and I would ask questions about them and talk about them. And that is absolutely what I regret,” Greene added.
Before taking office last month, Greene voiced support for an array of unfounded conspiracy theories including the “QAnon” one that holds that elite Democrats are part of a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles and cannibals. According to CNN, Greene expressed support online for executing prominent Democrats including Pelosi.
Greene, who said she was inspired to enter politics by Trump’s leadership, embraced his false claim that he won the Nov. 3 election, alleged that deadly U.S. school shootings were staged, suggested a space laser was used to deliberately start a California wildfire and questioned whether a plane struck the Pentagon in the 2001 attacks on the United States.
In her speech, Greene disavowed belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory, acknowledged that school shootings really happened and that the Sept. 11 attacks did occur.
Greene also assailed the media, asking: “Will we allow the media that is just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies to divide us?”
The House Republican caucus on Wednesday allowed Greene to go unpunished but also turned back a bid by lawmakers on the right to oust establishment Republican Liz Cheney from the party’s House leadership over her Jan. 13 vote to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection before a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The political atmosphere in Congress has been acrimonious since that rampage, in which some Trump supporters threatened to kill Democratic lawmakers including Pelosi, as well as Republican then-Vice President Mike Pence.
In 2019, Republican congressman Steve King was stripped of his House committee assignments after he questioned during a media interview why white supremacy is considered offensive. He is no longer in Congress.
Updated at 10:17 p.m. Feb. 4, 2021
Reuters contributed to this report.