Appearance of GOP lawmakers at white nationalist conference draws rebuke

WASHINGTON — Republican congressional leaders on Monday broke their silence on the attendance of two House Republicans at a far-right conference tied to white supremacy, decrying the actions of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Representative Paul Gosar from Arizona.

Three days after Ms. Greene appeared in person and Mr. Gosar by video at America’s first political action conference, hosted by prominent white supremacist Nick Fuentes, the responses reflected growing pressure on leading Republicans to denounce the extremists in their ranks.

They followed a stern condemnation by the Republican Jewish Coalition and a more oblique one by the Republican National Committee, and marked a rare public rebuke from GOP congressional leaders, who more often remained silent in response to the language and to the outrageous conduct of their hard right. members.

On Monday afternoon, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader who aspires to be a speaker, told reporters on Capitol Hill that he found the couple’s behavior “appalling and wrong.”

After taking Republicans to Israel and to the holy Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, McCarthy said, he had returned to Washington to find that two colleagues “went and participated with a group that has a leader who gives often held anti-Semitic views, and led a chant for Putin.

“The party should not be associated at any time or place with anyone who is anti-Semitic,” he added, calling Ms Greene’s inability to leave the stage after Mr. Fuentes praised Adolf Hitler.

His comments came shortly after Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate’s top Republican, issued a statement saying, “There is no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or anti-Semitism. .

Ms Greene dismissed criticism of her involvement, saying at first she did not know who Mr Fuentes was. But on Sunday, she launched a rambling and defiant campaign that veered into anti-Semitism when she called her attackers “Republican Party Pharisees,” referring to a former group of Jewish leaders whom Jesus called hypocrites.

“We are not going to be deterred by reporters and Washington insiders who fear our Lord’s name and relentlessly attack those of us who proclaim his name,” Ms. Greene said. “We know that Christ is our only judge.”

The episode was another indication of the extremism problem Republicans are facing within their ranks, during what should be heady days for the party. President Biden’s abysmal approval ratings bolstered his fortunes and put congressional control within his reach after midterm elections in November. But the words and actions of prominent Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump, the nominal GOP leader, have kept lawmakers and leaders on the defensive.

Mr Trump has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in recent days as “learned”, “genius” and “intelligent”, resurrecting questions about the efforts of the former president to suspend military aid from Ukraine in order to force its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump’s Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“It was Zelensky, now a world hero, asking for weapons, and it was an American president who slowed down the supply of those weapons so that Zelensky would conduct a political investigation of his enemy,” Senator Mitt Romney said. Utah, the only Republican to vote to convict Mr. Trump after his first impeachment, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It was wrong. It was in violation of a president’s responsibility to defend our nation and champion the cause of freedom.

Pressed on ABC’s “This Week” to repudiate Mr. Trump’s praise for Mr. Putin, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, quipped: “If you want to know what Donald Trump thinks of Vladimir Putin or any other subject, I encourage you to invite him on your show.

But neither Ms. Greene nor Mr. Gosar are party leaders. The House stripped Ms. Greene of her committee assignments for threats against Democratic members and formally censured Mr. Gosar for publishing a cartoon of Rep. cutting the neck of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, before violently confronting Mr. Biden.

Mr. McCarthy imposed no penalty in either case. The only House Republicans who have been disciplined for their words or deeds are Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who were censured by the party this month for participating in the inquiry into the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. , that the RNC called “the persecution of ordinary people engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

Mr. McCarthy defended censorship, while Mr. McConnell repudiated it.

In the case of Ms. Green and Mr. Gosar, the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is generously funded by powerful party donors, was quick to denounce their appearances last week at the America First conference, where lawmakers shared a stage with Mr Fuentes, an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier who questioned why comparing Mr Putin to Hitler was “a bad thing”.

The crowd at the conference – which was taking place on the sidelines of the largest conservative political action conference, or CPAC – could be heard on videos chanting “Putin, Poutin”.

“It is appalling and outrageous for a member of Congress to share a platform with an individual who actively spewed anti-Semitic bile, mocked the Holocaust and promoted dangerous anti-Israel conspiracy theories,” said the Republican Jewish group, adding, “This has absolutely no place in the Republican Party, and the RJC will actively oppose anyone who associates with Nick Fuentes, AFPAC and the like.

Without naming any members, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said Sunday that “white supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry are disgusting and have no place in the Republican Party.”

Mr. Fuentes, for his part, used the flap to promote his own rally.

“After a day of vicious attacks on Marjorie Taylor Greene for speaking to AFPAC last night, Donald Trump is giving her a shout out and an endorsement from CPAC’s main stage,” he wrote on his Telegram account, before suggesting that Mr Trump would have him attend in the future.

Kenneth S. Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate at Bard College, said the moment was reminiscent of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, was making forays into the Republican Party and trying to push his ideas into the mainstream.

In 1991, President George HW Bush called a press conference to denounce Mr Duke as a “charlatan” who did not deserve “one iota of the public’s trust”.

“When someone has so recently endorsed Nazism, it’s inconceivable that anyone could reasonably aspire to a leadership role in a free society,” he said.

In this case, Mr Stern said: ‘I’m less worried about Marjorie Taylor Greene showing up to a conference with people she should be embarrassed with and more concerned about a lot of people in the Republican Party not calling the big lie with Donald Trump and the 2020 election.”

For Republicans, the issue is sensitive. Ms Greene said she would not be silenced when speaking to young activists who should be molded into the next generation of Republican voters.

“We must guide our young people in the paths of justice so that they do not wander into darkness,” she said.

And the energy on the far right is young, led by Mr. Fuentes and his “groypers”, who have tempered their racist language as they aim to bring their ideas of white nationalism into the mainstream.

Nor is it at all clear that the Republicans would pay the stock price to their right.

“I have absolute faith in Kevin McCarthy,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “He’s rock solid when it comes to that. If he wants to settle the matter publicly or privately, all I can tell you is that it will be settled. It’s not something he will ignore.

Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary and prominent Jewish Republican, called Ms Greene’s appearance “as bad as it gets” and a “moral line that should never be crossed”.

But he, too, expressed confidence in Mr. McCarthy.

“They left, it’s their behavior,” he said. “I have 100% confidence in Kevin and the Republican leadership that, whether in public or in private, they are handling the situation well.”

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