Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is reviving her rabble-rousing ways, creating new headaches for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) as he settles into his role leading the House GOP conference’s razor-thin majority.
Greene arrived on Capitol Hill in 2021 as a conservative firebrand who quickly emerged as a nuisance for top lawmakers. That changed when former Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) mended fences and embraced Greene on his way to the Speakership, turning the outspoken instigator into a leadership ally.
But as McCarthy’s ouster drifts farther into the past, the old Greene is coming back to shore.
In an extensive interview with The Hill, Greene did not hold back when asked about Johnson’s early Speakership record — “terrible” — or his need to earn her trust.
“He went from having a voting record to literally a month later … going against his own voting record and being Speaker of the House,” Greene later added. “Literally all of a sudden talking about doing things that he had literally voted against only a month before that. And, you know, that was unacceptable to me, and it still is.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks with Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) as House and Senate Armed Services Committees’ go to conference for the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday, November 29, 2023.
In the first two months of the Johnson era, Greene moved to force votes on a pair of politically prickly issues that split the Republican conference, hurled sometimes explicit insults at GOP colleagues who opposed those efforts, and frequently criticized the Speaker’s strategy on major issues including government funding, Ukraine aid and the annual defense policy bill.
While the role of rabble-rouser is nothing new for Greene, her reversion to that position has exacerbated the problems facing Johnson as he works to unite the GOP conference through a series of legislative landmines.
Greene maintains that despite her dramatic change during the McCarthy era, she is still the same antagonist deep down.
“I wasn’t a team player. I wasn’t even involved. I was a regular American, a very successful business owner, a mom who raised my kids, and a Republican voter who felt let down by Republicans in Washington, D.C. So that’s who I am, and I’m still that person,” Greene said.
“I’m not the Republican team player; I never have been,” she added.
Outcry over key issues
US. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Mike Johnson (R-LA), Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Daniel Webster (R-FL) listen as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at a news conference after the House passed H.R.2 – the Secure the Border Act of 2023 at the Capitol, May 11, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Greene has dialed up her criticism of Johnson since he won the gavel on Oct. 25, sharply critiquing his strategy on a handful of policy pushes — including his call to pair Ukraine aid with border security.
As a growing contingent of Republicans oppose support for Kyiv, Johnson said any assistance must be coupled with substantive border security policy, a move that was viewed as an attempt to find common ground between Ukraine allies and conservative skeptics. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a top supporter of Ukraine, got behind the play.
But Greene said the proposal was a “bad strategy.”
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The Georgia Republican also slammed Johnson’s decision to put a “clean” two-step continuing resolution (CR) on the floor to avert a government shutdown — which largely mirrored the decision McCarthy made that marked the beginning of the end of his Speakership.
“Mike Johnson comes in and first thing he starts talking about is passing another CR, and I’m like, wait a minute, what? You just voted against it. That was the whole reason why Kevin McCarthy got ousted, was working with Democrats and passing a clean CR. And you know, for me I was like, what a hypocrisy,” Greene told The Hill.
“And then the next thing he starts immediately talking about is funding Ukraine, that shocked me,” Greene later added. “I was like, why would he even be talking about that? He voted against it.”
But Johnson had told GOP lawmakers in a “dear colleague” letter hours before his election as Speaker that he would put a short-term stopgap bill on the floor if needed to avert a shutdown — and Greene supported his candidacy despite that plan.
Greene also knocked Johnson after congressional leaders released the final version of the annual defense bill that, she said, was completed without input from conferees.
That critique was more personal: McCarthy had appointed her to the conference committee, and the final product omitted conservative provisions she had championed. She wasted no time taking shots at the new Speaker.
“Speaker Johnson worked with [Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)] to cut a deal that removes all abortion and trans surgery prohibitions we passed under Speaker McCarthy,” Greene wrote this month on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “No member of the NDAA conference had any influence on this process. It was done in secret meetings with no input from conferees,” she continued, referring to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The criticisms might be easily dismissed coming from another second-term lawmaker. But Greene has quickly made herself into a national brand — a fundraising juggernaut and close ally of former President Trump, who leadership can ignore only at their own peril.
Greene and Johnson have spoken on several occasions, according to various news reports, and a spokesperson for Johnson said the Louisiana Republican weighs the concerns of everyone in the party.
“Speaker Johnson takes into consideration the input of each and every one of the members across the Conference,” the spokesperson told The Hill.
Forced votes and public confrontations
This combo image shows Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Feb. 18, 2022, left, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., May 18, 2023, right. The House is expected to consider resolutions that would censure Tlaib and Greene in a partisan tit-for-tat over inflammatory rhetoric. (AP Photo/File)
Greene has also wielded procedural tools to influence the House’s agenda, forcing Johnson into making politically difficult decisions and exposing fissures within the GOP conference.
Roughly 24 hours after the House elected Johnson, Greene moved to force a vote on censuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) for her criticisms of Israel following Hamas’s unprecedented attacks. The move compelled the newly minted Speaker to act on the measure that, controversially, accused the Michigan Democrat of “leading an insurrection.”
Twenty-three Republicans joined with Democrats in voting to table the resolution, torpedoing the legislation and dividing the GOP conference at a time when showcasing unity was a key leadership priority.
Greene put the 23 GOP lawmakers on blast — especially Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who got in a public back-and-forth with the Georgia Republican after he called her censure resolution “feckless” and “deeply flawed.”
“Oh shut up Colonel Sanders, you’re not even from Texas, more like the DMV. Chip Roy’s career [consists] of working for politicians, working for campaigns for politicians, and being a politician himself,” Greene wrote on X.
Next, Greene moved twice to force votes on impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorka is sworn in before the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on Oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The House shelved the first resolution after eight Republicans voted with Democrats to refer the measure to the Homeland Security Committee, again dealing a blow to one of Greene’s procedural gambits and teeing up a public spat between her and another GOP lawmaker — Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) — who criticized her and her effort.
The back-and-forth included a post on X from Greene’s campaign account directed at Issa, which shared an abridged clip of former President Trump saying “she said he’s a pussy.”
Greene yanked her second attempt after she said Johnson “guaranteed that we’ll be moving forward with impeachment” for Mayorkas. But the episode did not conclude without Greene taking a clear shot at Johnson.
“It’s still early in his Speakership, so I have given him — I’ve been patient, but the honeymoon’s over,” Greene said of Johnson minutes after she moved to force a second vote. “So at this point, yes, I’m frustrated.”
GOP lawmakers say the public spats are counterproductive.
“It weakens us,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said of Greene criticizing Johnson in public. “And you know, we got a three-seat majority, we got to respect that.”
“I don’t know how that helps,” another House Republican, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic, said. “I truly don’t see how that helps.”
Running the same playbook? ‘Not necessarily’
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., look at vote totals during the roll call vote on the motion to adjourn for the evening in the House chamber as the House meets for a second day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Greene insists she is “not necessarily” running the same playbook with Johnson that she used to land herself in McCarthy’s corner — “Going on that basis would mean that I have only one playbook, and that that’s the only one I know how to follow, and that’s not true about me at all” — but there are similarities.
Greene was shrouded in controversy when she was sworn into office in January 2021, drawing headlines for comments supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posed early headaches for GOP leadership.
Only a month into her tenure, 11 Republicans joined with Democrats to strip Greene of her committee assignments because of her endorsement of conspiracy theories, racist dogma and violence against Democratic politicians.
Greene said conservatives told her at the time that McCarthy was responsible for her being booted from committees, which fueled her opposition to the then-GOP leader and sparked her public campaign against him.
“He was an enemy in my mind, that that had happened, and I attacked him all the time. Like, it was all the time,” Greene told The Hill.
Following her committee ouster, Greene reposted — then deleted — a social media post that called McCarthy a “feckless c**t,” and, later in the year, declared that the then-minority leader “doesn’t have the full support to be Speaker.”
“When I came in as a freshman member of Congress, I was majorly, you know, anti-leadership,” she said.
Greene said she sought a “reset” after former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told her that McCarthy was not behind the effort and had rather fought to keep her on panels. She then began meeting with McCarthy in earnest.
In September 2022, as the House GOP was on its way to reclaiming the majority, she appeared at a rollout event for McCarthy’s midterm campaign platform after helping craft the priorities, an early sign of support. That November, Greene backed McCarthy’s Speakership bid, breaking from others in the right flank and culminating her transformation from leadership adversary to ally.
And in a sign of her evolution from outsider to insider, news broke in July that the House Freedom Caucus voted to remove Greene from its ranks in part because of her cozy relationship with McCarthy. The striking move came shortly after the Georgia Republican split from many of her conservative colleagues to support the debt limit bill McCarthy struck with President Biden.
‘I would love to help Mike Johnson be successful’
FILE – Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 29, 2023. The House is pushing toward a vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden formally. This comes as Republicans rally behind the charged process despite lingering concerns among some in the party that the investigation has yet to produce evidence of misconduct by the president. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Despite the rocky start with Johnson, Greene is extending a hand to the top lawmaker in what could be seen as a bid to join the inner circle.
”I would love to help Mike Johnson be successful, but so far I can’t support the decisions that he’s made,” she said.
But she took a shot at Johnson’s leadership style.
“He’s got to earn it. But would I help him? Of course I would. If he listened,” Greene said. “See, there’s a difference. Kevin McCarthy would listen. Kevin McCarthy would, you know, he would take ideas, he would take suggestions, he would take help because he was willing to take it, and he didn’t try to do everything on his own.”
A third House Republican, who also requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, suggested that the onus is on GOP leadership to forge a relationship with Greene — like McCarthy did — so she can advocate for her priorities privately rather than publicly.
“Legislators have to be developed here, and people, you know, you have to have trusted allies to help you build how to be effective here. And Kevin helped a lot of members channel their goals into an effective process, and he was very, very open about it. That was his power, enormous strength that he doesn’t get much credit for,” the GOP lawmaker said.
“She’s a good example of how she had influence and was highly effective. And she was able to do that behind closed doors. Now, in order for her to get the same effect, she has to do it publicly. Same set of goals. This is stuff that she’s worked on. So I don’t I view that as you know, no one in current leadership having an effective relationship with her, how it’s more a statement of our current leadership than it is about a change in her,” the lawmaker added.
For now, Greene would not outwardly say that she trusts Johnson, and she made clear that she would be keeping an eye on the Speaker moving forward.
“Trust is earned and that’s based on actions, not on promises or intentions or saying, ‘I’m brand-new here,’” Greene told The Hill. “Honeymoon is over; it’s all about actions from here on out.”
Mike Lillis contributed.
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