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Rep. Greene responds after House votes to kick her off committees

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene lashed out Friday at “morons” in both parties who voted to kick her off her committees, a day after the House meted out the unprecedented punishment that Democrats said she’d earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories.

Underscoring the political vise her inflammatory commentary has clamped her party into, all but 11 Republicans voted against the Democratic move on Thursday but none rose to defend her lengthy history of outrageous social media posts.

In the most riveting moment of that day’s debate, the freshman Republican from a deep-red corner of Georgia took to the House floor on her own behalf. She offered a mixture of backpedaling and finger-pointing as she wore a dark mask emblazoned with the words “FREE SPEECH.”

The chamber’s near party-line 230-199 vote was the latest instance of conspiracy theories becoming pitched political battlefields, an increasingly familiar occurrence during Donald Trump’s presidency. He faces a Senate trial next week for his House impeachment for inciting insurrection after a mob he fueled with his false narrative of a stolen election attacked the Capitol.

Thursday’s fight also underscored the uproar and political complexities that Greene — a master of provoking Democrats, promoting herself and raising campaign money — has prompted since becoming a House candidate last year.

Greene showed no signs of repentance Friday.

“I woke up early this morning literally laughing thinking about what a bunch of morons the Democrats (+11) are for giving some one like me free time,” she tweeted.

At a news conference later outside the Capitol, Greene accused news organizations of “addicting our nation to hate.” She deflected a question about her past online suggestion that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could be executed for treason, and warned that Republicans opposing her should remember that Trump — with whom she is closely allied — controls the GOP.

“The party is his,” she said. “It doesn’t belong to anybody else.”

A day earlier on the House floor, Greene tried to dissociate herself from her “words of the past.” Contradicting past social media posts, she said she believes the 9/11 attacks and mass school shootings were real and no longer believes QAnon conspiracy theories, which include lies about Democratic-run pedophile rings.

But she didn’t explicitly apologize for supportive online remarks she’s made on other subjects, as when she mulled Pelosi, D-Calif., being assassinated or the possibility of Jewish-controlled space rays causing wildfires. And she portrayed herself as the victim of unscrupulous “big media companies.”

News organizations “can take teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us as someone that we’re not,” she said. She added that “we’re in a real big problem” if the House punished her but tolerated “members that condone riots that have hurt American people” — a clear reference to last summer’s social justice protests that in some instances became violent.

READ MORE: How the U.S. Capitol attack highlights the challenges of thwarting online right-wing extremism

Greene was on the Education and Labor Committee and the Budget Committee. Democrats were especially aghast about her assignment to the education panel, considering the past doubt she cast on school shootings in Florida and Connecticut.

The political imperative for Democrats was clear: Greene’s support for violence and fictions was dangerous and merited punishment. Democrats and researchers said there was no apparent precedent for the full House removing a lawmaker from a committee, a step usually taken by their party leaders.

The calculation was more complicated for Republicans.

Though Trump left the White House two weeks ago, his devoted followers are numerous among the party’s voters, and he and Greene are allies. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., hopes GOP victories in the 2022 elections will make him speaker. Republicans could undermine that scenario by alienating Trump’s and Greene’s passionate supporters, and McCarthy took no action to punish her.

“If any of our members threatened the safety of other members, we’d be the first ones to take them off a committee,” Pelosi angrily told reporters. She said she was “profoundly concerned” about GOP leaders’ acceptance of an “extreme conspiracy theorist.”

At one point, No. 2 Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland strode to the GOP side of the chamber carrying a poster of a Greene Facebook post from last year. “Squad’s Worst Nightmare,” Greene had written in the post, which showed her holding an AR-15 firearm next to pictures of three of the four Democratic lawmakers, all young women of color, who’ve been nicknamed “The Squad.”

“They are people. They are our colleagues,” Hoyer said. He mimicked Greene’s pose holding the weapon and said, “I have never, ever seen that before.”

Republicans tread carefully but found rallying points.

McCarthy said Greene’s past opinions “do not represent the views of my party.” But without naming the offenders, he said Pelosi hadn’t stripped committee memberships from Democrats who became embroiled in controversy. Among those he implicated was Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who made anti-Israel insults for which she later apologized.

“If that’s the new standard,” he said of Democrats’ move against Greene, “we have a long list.”

Committee assignments are crucial for lawmakers for shaping legislation affecting their districts, creating a national reputation and raising campaign contributions. Even social media stars like Greene could find it harder to define themselves without the spotlights that committees provide.

Not all Republicans were in forgiving moods, especially in the Senate. There, fringe GOP candidates have lost winnable races in recent years and leaders worry a continued linkage with Trump and conspiracists will inflict more damage.

That chamber’s minority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., this week called Greene’s words a “cancer” on the GOP and country. On Thursday, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota amplified that thinking.

Thune said House Republicans must stop “dabbling” in conspiracy theories, adding, “I don’t think that’s a productive course of action or one that’s going to lead to much prosperity politically in the future.”

News organizations have unearthed countless social media videos and “likes” in which Greene embraced absurd theories like suspicions that Hillary Clinton was behind the 1999 death of John F. Kennedy Jr. Greene responded, “Stage is being set,” when someone posted a question about hanging Clinton and former President Barack Obama.

Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed.

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