Marjorie Taylor Greene returns to outsider roots

WASHINGTON — On the day House Republicans and a smattering of Democrats voted to censure U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib over comments she made during pro-Palestinian protests, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was fuming.

A week prior, on Nov. 1, a handful of House Republicans had voted against a rival piece of legislation authored by Greene, sending it to defeat. Their opposition, they said, was because Greene’s bill contained inaccurate or imprecise claims about Tlaib’s actions. Greene responded by calling them “pathetic” and “feckless” in social media posts

As it became clear that this second, more measured censure approach would gain passage, Greene railed against House Speaker Mike Johnson and other party leaders. Part of her frustration: She had texted Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Whip Tom Emmer about the dueling resolutions and got no response.

“I am frustrated with it,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the day of the Nov. 7 vote. “And the way they scheduled it — it’s playing games, scheduling games, to make sure mine fails.”

While Greene has always been among the most conservative and more controversial House Republicans, in her second term that began in January she showed signs of growth and pragmatism. She served on committees for the first time and enjoyed a close relationship with Speaker Kevin McCarthy that made her more willing to support bipartisan legislation he put on the floor.

Although some Republican activists were skeptical of Greene’s alliance with McCarthy, her long-standing alliance with former President Donald Trump served as a buffer. As she traveled with Trump to campaign events and remained one of his top surrogates, even those who scratched their heads about Greene’s turn toward the establishment were hesitant to criticize her publicly.

But in recent weeks, particularly since McCarthy’s ouster in early October, Greene has gone on the attack in ways that hark back to her rise as a darling of QAnon conspiracy theorists and on ultraconservative social media platforms. Her ire has focused mostly on fellow House Republicans in ways that contrasts greatly with her more measured approach while McCarthy was the leader.

Greene said during a recent AJC interview that she does not consider her feuds with fellow GOP lawmakers a shift in tone. She said she is being who she always was: an outsider who is less concerned about making friends in Washington than pursuing a far-right “America First” agenda.

“I’m not having relationship problems,” she said. “I feel like a Republican voter. That is where my mindset is. I’m tired of being let down by Republicans in Washington.”

From outsider to insider and back

Greene, who was first elected in 2020, said she ran for office because she was tired of “business as usual” on Capitol Hill. She has long been criticized for controversial and often problematic comments made both during and prior to her time in office.

McCarthy appointed Greene to high-profile committees, including the House Oversight panel that has the power to launch investigations of President Joe Biden’s administration. The speaker insisted that Greene had a direct line to his office at all times. And when McCarthy faced skepticism from the far right, he enjoyed the loyalty of a lawmaker who was willing to defend him and boost his credibility among Trump loyalists.

Greene supported McCarthy even as other hard-liners turned on him. She voted to raise the debt limit in July, backing a bill that McCarthy had negotiated with Biden to avoid a credit default.

When McCarthy introduced legislation in September to avoid a government shutdown by extending current funding levels for two months, Greene joined other ultraconservatives in opposing the measure. But when eight of those hard-liners were so outraged they moved to kick McCarthy out of the speaker’s office, Greene stuck with him.

Republican U.S. Reps. Kevin McCarthy of California and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome worked closely together while he was speaker, and she continued to back him when other hard-liners successfully pushed to oust him in October. Since then, Greene has directed attacks at her party's leadership, including the new speaker, Mike Johnson of Louisiana. “There’s a new man in charge," said Alice Stewart, who has worked on numerous Republican presidential campaigns, "and she’s testing the limits of how far she can go.” (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

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Greene’s loyalty to McCarthy had prompted hand-wringing from some pockets within the MAGA wing of the Republican Party that she had lost her edge. But a month after his ouster, when Johnson was selected by the GOP conference to become speaker, Greene was back on the attack and less inclined to play nice with the new leader.

Ideologically, Johnson is just as conservative as Greene. However, they don’t appear to have the personal relationship she cultivated with McCarthy.

Alice Stewart, a Georgia native who has worked on numerous Republican presidential campaigns, said Greene had months to learn how far McCarthy would allow her to go. Now, she is starting anew with Johnson.

“I think she understands now how far she can walk up to the line before she is pushed back,” Stewart said. “There’s a new man in charge, and she’s testing the limits of how far she can go.”

Alone again

Even under McCarthy, there were signs that Greene’s relationships with fellow Republicans was fraying. In July, she was kicked out of the deeply conservative House Freedom Caucus after openly feuding with Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert. Greene said recently that her ties to McCarthy were also at the root of that conflict.

But with McCarthy out of leadership, it is clear that Greene is embracing her loner status once again. Whether that is because McCarthy is no longer in position to keep her in check or whether she is unwilling to play along for any other leader, the gloves are back off.

Shortly before the Thanksgiving break, Greene responded to news that Johnson had authorized the release of surveillance video footage from Jan. 6, 2001, by saying he needed to do more. The next step should be a GOP-led Jan. 6 select committee, Greene said.

“Releasing the tapes is not enough!” she wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

Her followers, particularly the hundreds of thousands she has cultivated on social media, have celebrated Greene’s return to her firebrand roots.

“We need more leaders like @mtgreenee!!!” conservative activist Graham Allen wrote on X earlier in November.

He shared a speech Greene delivered on the House floor in early November where she encouraged Republicans to back her bill impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Eight Republicans ultimately voted with Democrats to refer the matter to committee, effectively killing the legislation and infuriating Greene again.

After the vote, she posted the names of those eight colleagues online and attached it to a video of her criticizing them one by one. She accused them of failing to address the influx of immigration at the southern border, a key pillar of the conservative agenda.

“This type of lack of will, lack of courage, lack of — I don’t even know what, they’re lacking ... a lot — to actually hold Secretary Mayorkas accountable and impeach him is shameful,” she said.

She concluded by encouraging her followers to express their own outrage at these eight lawmakers by calling their offices.

“I think you guys know exactly what to do about this,” she said to the camera. “I’m sure you’re just as upset as I am, and I’m sure you’re just as outraged at why anybody, any Republican, would vote with the Democrats to refer articles of impeachment back to committee where they go to die.”

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton is among the Republicans whom Greene targeted after he opposed her Tlaib resolution, but he said he holds no grudge even if there is a difference in style.

“Marjorie is a friend of mine, and she’s active in bringing issues to the floor that sometimes make people uncomfortable but need to be discussed,” Scott said. “And I think she deserves credit for bringing the (Mayorkas) impeachment resolution to the floor the other day. The discussion about what he has allowed to happen at the southern border needs to be happening.”