WASHINGTON — Divided House Republicans approached showdowns on Wednesday over Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Liz Cheney, who've antagonized opposing wings of the GOP as the party struggles to define itself with Donald Trump gone from the White House.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., met for 90 minutes late Tuesday with Greene, R-Ga. The hard-right freshman has burst onto the national political scene after using social media to endorse outlandish conspiracy theories and violent, racist views.
McCarthy is under bipartisan pressure to remove Greene from her committee assignments, and the Democratic-run House scheduled an initial step Wednesday toward removing her from her panels.
McCarthy's meeting with Greene, and a subsequent meeting by a GOP panel that decides that party's committee assignments, suggested Republicans were considering making a move themselves. That would bypass a full House vote removing Greene from her committees that could be politically uncomfortable for many Republicans.
Republicans had appointed Greene to the Education committee, a decision that drew especially harsh criticism because of her suggestions that school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, could be hoaxes.
Aides to McCarthy and Greene were not saying Wednesday what would happen next.
"No matter what @GOPLeader does it would never be enough for the hate America Democrats," Greene tweeted early Wednesday.
Meanwhile, House Republicans planned a closed-door meeting later Wednesday in which Cheney's political fate could be decided. The GOP's furthest right wing was itching to oust Cheney, R-Wyo., from her post as the No. 3 House Republican after she voted last month to impeach Trump.
Cheney is a leader of her party's traditional conservatives and is a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The strife underscores Republican fissures as the party seeks a path forward two weeks after Trump left office as the only twice-impeached president. House Republicans are effectively deciding whether to prioritize the former president's norm-shattering behavior and conspiracy theories and retain the loyalty of his voters over more establishment conservative values.
"We can either become a fringe party that never wins elections or rebuild the big tent party of Reagan," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the few elected Republicans who routinely rebuked Trump, said in a written statement. Without mentioning Cheney or Greene, he added, "I urge congressional Republicans to make the right choice."
But pro-Trump forces remain powerful.
"We've got millions and millions of woke, motivated, America-first Trump voters that believe in the movement," said John Fredericks, who led Trump's Virginia campaigns in 2016 and 2020. "If you're going to keep Liz Cheney in leadership, there's no party."
The handling of Greene and Cheney presented a tricky balancing act for McCarthy. The eight-term lawmaker is hoping to become speaker should Republicans capture the House majority in the 2022 elections and has little interest in antagonizing any of his GOP colleagues.
Penalizing Cheney for what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a "vote of conscience" on impeachment would be awkward without also punishing Greene. Action against either risked angering the GOP's numerous Trump supporters or its more traditional conservative backers.
"You can't do the normal political song and dance and appease this side slightly and appease that side slightly," said former Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who lost a 2018 party primary after clashing with Trump. "The whole nature of the Trump phenomenon is there is no appeasement."
McConnell, R-Ky., was building pressure on McCarthy.
He issued one statement praising Cheney as "a leader with deep convictions and courage." In another statement that didn't use Greene's name, the usually circumspect McConnell called her "loony lies" a "cancer" on the GOP. His remarks were the latest indication of his concerns about letting the GOP's most pro-Trump, hardest-right factions gain too much sway in the party.
In addition, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who's been trying to combat the GOP's pro-Trump wing, said he favored removing Greene from her committees, saying Republicans must "take a stand to disavow" her. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a Trump critic and the GOP 2012 presidential nominee, said Tuesday that Republicans must "separate ourselves from the people that are the wacky weeds."
On social media, Greene has voiced support for racist views, unfounded QAnon pro-Trump conspiracy theories and calls for violence against Democratic politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Greene herself tweeted fundraising appeals Tuesday that said, "With your support, the Democrat mob can't cancel me," beneath a picture of herself standing with Trump.
McCarthy has stopped short of criticizing Greene, who was dubbed a "future Republican Star" by Trump last summer and has remained a firm Trump supporter.
McCarthy has long been close to Trump. But he's been criticized by some Republicans, mostly quietly, for relentlessly supporting Trump's fallacious claims of a fraudulent election last November and for not forcefully criticizing Trump for helping provoke the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters.
Cheney foes have said they have enough votes to force Cheney's removal from her leadership job.
But it was unclear Wednesday whether that vote among GOP lawmakers would occur or if McCarthy would somehow delay that showdown. McCarthy has said he supports Cheney but also has "concerns," leaving his stance on her unclear.
Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., a leader of the effort to oust Cheney, says he has enough support to succeed.
"She's brought this on herself," Rosendale said. He said Cheney, who was joined by only nine other Republicans in backing impeachment, was wrong to not forewarn colleagues about her decision.