In Marjorie Taylor Greene’s backyard, shutdown politics is complicated

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks to press following votes on July 12th, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks to press following votes on July 12th, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ROME — At the Swift & Finch coffeehouse, David Doss held court this week not about the latest local scandal or upcoming mayoral race, but about the dysfunction in Washington that nearly led to a government shutdown over the weekend.

The source of Doss’ frustration was U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Rome-based Republican often at the center of Washington drama. And Doss, who described himself as a throwback Republican, declared himself over it all.

“Why don’t the voters in Rome care about what she’s doing for Rome?” said Doss, who once chaired the state Transportation Board. Among his laments is Greene’s 2022 vote opposing a budget that included $5.1 million to redevelop a former hospital outside of town.

“It seems like there’s a race to the bottom,” he said, “and there’s no low that’s too low.”

If there’s a key Georgia player in the middle of the ongoing standoff in Washington, it’s Greene. And interviews with local leaders and activists in the heart of Greene’s northwest Georgia district reflected the benefits and blowback of her brinksmanship approach.

Some, such as Doss, want nothing to do with the far-right Republicans who have pulled the party to the conservative flank. Others say Greene’s budget votes reflect a deep vein of distrust that many have of Washington.

“Some lawmakers seem to be doing it for the right reasons, some don’t,” said Ethan Pender, a local teacher and Republican activist, who counts Greene among those with higher-minded goals. “But you’ll be hard-pressed to find people who sympathize with the federal government here.”

Greene, as always, seems to relish being in the mix. The second-term Republican famously worked to save Kevin McCarthy’s political career, and her support helped him narrowly win the speaker’s gavel in January. The California Republican later gushed about their ironclad bond.

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Credit: TNS

But that relationship stretched to the breaking point after Greene and other far-right Republicans broke with McCarthy over a budget deal, leading him to strike a short-term compromise with Democrats to hash out a 45-day funding agreement that averted a government shutdown.

Greene declared before that vote that she was a “hard no” on any budget deal that included U.S. military aid for Ukraine, saying: “I’m not going to fund a government that doesn’t care about our own border but that worships Ukraine.”

At an “emergency town hall meeting” last month in nearby Plainville, Greene laid out her reasons for supporting a government shutdown. At one point, she held up her phone for a call from former President Donald Trump, who won nearly three-quarters of the vote in the district in 2020 and has endorsed the far-right GOP lawmakers who’d rather see funding lapse than make a deal with Democrats.

“When you’re there for Marjorie, you’re there for me, too,” he told the crowd.

Her allies say she’s voicing the concerns of voters who feel stifled by high grocery prices and inflation. Jamie Palmer, the Floyd County GOP chair, said there’s also deeper discontent over “the looming fear that our financial safety nets won’t be available when we need them.”

“Many residents in our neck of the woods feel their circumstances have declined compared to the Trump era,” Palmer said, adding that he’s confident Greene will help devise a “solid plan” that goes beyond simply slashing spending.

‘Pass the damn bill’

Mainstream Republican leaders in Georgia have sounded the alarm over the GOP’s lurch from one Washington crisis to another.

Without naming names, Gov. Brian Kemp predicted that House Republicans would wind up regretting that they failed to show the public they could effectively govern if they were driven to a shutdown.

“Just pass the damn bill and try to get something,” Kemp said during a lengthy conversation at the Texas Tribune Festival, where he questioned whether far-right Republicans had a comprehensive strategy to rein in spending.

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Credit: TNS

“If you’re really hellbent on working on spending and controlling spending, where are their proposals for dealing with that?” Kemp said. “None of them have enough guts to come out and say anything about that because they know they’ll get lit up by the other side — or the front-runner in the presidential race.”

Had the two sides failed to reach a deal, millions of federal workers would have been immediately furloughed, and some services would have been suspended or reduced. Democrats would surely have tried to make Greene one of the faces of the shutdown.

Yet the extent of the political blowback is far more uncertain. A recent Monmouth University poll showed that voters overwhelmingly want lawmakers to compromise to keep funding flowing rather than stick to their “spending principles.” But a YouGov survey showed voters were split over who to blame for the latest standoff.

“People here aren’t really paying attention to the shutdown,” said Vinny Olsziewski, a Rome Democrat. “They would if their check didn’t come and the federal office they went to closed. But to many, it’s just one battle that makes no sense after another.”

He added, though, that the pain of a government closure would be a piercing wake-up call to voters.

“We elect these people to govern,” Olsziewski said. “But if Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich can find common ground, why can’t these Republicans?”

‘What’s the plan?’

No matter what she does, Greene likely won’t face any fallout at the polls in her backyard.

She won the northwest Georgia district with 66% of the vote over a Democratic opponent who spent more than $16 million — more than many name-brand statewide candidates raised — in his failed bid to defeat her.

And some local leaders expect the district to turn a deeper shade of red in 2024 if a judge rules that GOP lawmakers illegally diluted Black voting power in metro Atlanta. Lawmakers required to redraw the maps could find heavily Democratic precincts in Cobb County that were forced into an unhappy union with Greene a ripe target for a redo.

“This is a deeply conservative district. People appreciate efforts to backstop wasteful spending in Washington. But at the same time we have to have a goal,” said Pender, the teacher and GOP activist.

“We can’t just throw the bums out — what’s the plan? What is the economic agenda?” he asked. “If you look at every successful political movement, if you look at why Donald Trump was able to capitalize in 2016, there were clear plans.”

Still, Greene has openly talked in recent weeks of seeking higher office, which would put her shutdown politics in a different light. Trump could pick Greene as his running mate next year, she has noted, or she could run for the U.S. Senate in 2026 when Kemp might also seek the office.

Her latest test came Tuesday, as McCarthy tried to stave off an effort led by hard-right Republicans to strip him of his speaker’s gavel after U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, filed a formal motion late Monday to dethrone him.

Following Gaetz’s motion, Greene used a lengthy social media to question whether Congress is willing to “solve the intentional systemic failure” that triggers perpetual funding crises. But she also said that ejecting the speaker would give Democrats the “upper hand.”

So she stuck by McCarthy once again.

But while Greene once helped McCarthy gain the speakership, her clout with the right flank of the Republican Party was not enough to help him keep it. GOP hard-liners joined Democrats in voting to remove McCarthy from the top job in the House, leaving her constituents wondering what’s next.

“Some people want effective governance, some people just don’t care,” said Wendy Davis, a former Rome councilmember who lost a Democratic primary bid to challenge Greene last year. “Some people want Congress to work, some just enjoy conflict and turmoil.”

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

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