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Republicans face bitter divisions and a defining moment for the party’s future

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are roiling Wednesday over the fate of two members -- and perhaps, of the party itself. At the same time, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate made a bipartisan move forward at the Capitol. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are split tonight over the fate of two of their members, and perhaps of the party itself.

    At the same time, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have come to an agreement.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At the Capitol, a bipartisan move forward today, a deal to give the Senate basic and much-needed operating rules.

  • Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer:

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    We will pass the resolution through the Senate today, which means that committees can promptly set up and get to work, with Democrats holding the gavels.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But, otherwise, the building remains a scene of bitter divisions, especially among House Republicans.

    Last night, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with Georgia freshman Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has promoted conspiracy theories and published threats of violence against other members. McCarthy is under pressure to take action against Greene.

  • Rep. Jim McGovern:

    We have never had a hearing like this before.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As House Democrats today started moving on a rare resolution to strip her of all of her committee assignments. They argue Greene is dangerous and unrepentant.

  • Rep. Norma Torres:

    Anyone who questioned the 9/11 attack, endorsed executions against our colleagues, referred to the midterms as Islamic invasion, simply put, is a danger to this institution and our personal safety.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No Republican defended Taylor Greene. Instead, they argued process, charging that Democrats are steamrolling.

  • Rep. Michelle Fischbach:

    It really does seem to me that this would be setting a new precedent and one that I think could be very dangerous. It's a precedent where the majority party can punish a member of the minority party by removing them from their committee assignments.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That GOP battle played side-by-side with another, as House Republicans met this afternoon to debate their number three leader, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, and her actions last month.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    The motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That was the vote to impeach now former President Donald Trump. Cheney was one of 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment. Since then, a vocal group of Republicans has pointed heated criticism at her.

    All of this played out at a Capitol that is torn, tense and, today, grieving.

  • Woman:

    Would you pray with me?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    With fellow officers on watch, the cremated remains of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick lay in the Capitol Rotunda. Sicknick died after defending the Capitol in the January 6 riot, killed by extremist Trump supporters.

    President Biden and the first lady paid respects last night. Sicknick is only the fifth person to have lain in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, an expression of national gratitude and tribute for Americans who were not public officials. A combat veteran, his remains were taken to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, let's go back to what you reported, Republicans meeting today, tonight, to discuss Liz Cheney, who is in their leadership. Can you tell us what's happened?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The future of the House Republican Caucus is — Conference is still unclear right now as I speak to you, Judy.

    The House Republicans have been meeting for now over two hours. They have not yet decided whether they will vote on Liz Cheney's future or not. But one of their other top leaders, the number two Republican, exited the meeting when they went on a short break to take votes on the House floor and said he wants his Republicans to deal with this tonight.

    What that means is, we expect a long night of speeches, kind of a family feud behind closed doors.

    Liz Cheney, we know, I can report, herself spoke to her fellow Republicans and said she does not apologize for her vote to impeach President Trump.

    But we also know, behind the scenes, she has been calling nearly every member of her 211-member conference to try and keep her job. One factor in her favor, the big boss, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican, walked out of the meet during this break and said he does support Cheney. He spoke in favor of her, and that's in her favor.

    But there are many who criticize her. So, tonight, we're still waiting to see what happens to the number three leader in the House Republican caucus.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, meantime, Lisa, also under discussion is another member of the Republican Caucus, the freshman congresswoman from the state of Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene. What are you learning about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So extraordinary.

    As we talk about the current leadership of the Republican Party, we're also talking about its identity. We know now, as I said, top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, spoke to reporters during this break. He told them that he offered a deal to Democrats about Ms. Greene. He said he would remove her from the Education Committee, put her on the Small Business Committee, and that Democrats rejected that deal.

    Democrats feel strongly she belongs on no committees, that she's dangerous. She's someone who has repeated, publicized threats, including threats against House Speaker Pelosi to assassinate her.

    Now, Kevin McCarthy came out with this statement just in the last hour about Congresswoman Greene. Let's read what he said, in part.

    He said he made clear to Marjorie when we met — "made clear that, as a member of Congress, we have a responsibility to hold ourselves to a higher standard than how she presented herself as a private citizen. Marjorie recognized this in our conversation. I hold her to her word."

    It sounds to me like McCarthy is essentially giving her another chance. However, will Democrats? Probably not. They are moving to vote tomorrow as a House to remove her from committees. That is something that has never happened. It's an extraordinary precedent. It shows how strongly Democrats feel.

    But Republicans say they're moving way too fast.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With all that going on, Lisa, there is a number of issues to ask you about. But let's talk about the big one. And that is the COVID relief proposal put forward by the Biden administration.

    What is that looking like on the Hill right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So happy to talk about this important issue.

    We know that President Biden today spoke with Democrats at the White House, including Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer walked out of that meeting saying: We all agree we want to go big.

    That total is about — is approaching $2 trillion is what President Biden has initially asked for. But there is some talk among my sources on Capitol Hill that they are hearing the Biden administration may lower some of its requests, targeting, for example, the direct payments to fewer families, perhaps changing the unemployment ratio that they're requesting to get closer in line to what the bipartisan group is asking for, what Republicans are asking for.

    But, in general, it looks like, right now, Democrats are full speed ahead on what could be a larger package than Republicans are comfortable with. They do technically have the votes to do that. They have to decide, are they willing to go it alone, as Democrats, on a big coronavirus package, or will they make it smaller to try and bring Republicans on board?

    Right now, it does look like they're going big, and they're going partisan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, watching all this.

    Lisa Desjardins, reporting on the Capitol, thank you, Lisa.

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