Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is having a moment. What does it mean?
Updated January 17, 2023 at 3:19 PM ET
When the House of Representatives adjourned on Jan. 3 and lawmakers went spilling out into the Capitol without being sworn in, most Republicans were visibly frustrated.
"It's our job, it's not a popularity contest, it's not who we like and who we don't like," one member said to a throng of reporters outside the House chamber. "That is the failure of Republicans, the Republicans are the party of 'Never,' and it's always 'Never' when they don't like somebody — and that's how we failed the country."
About 90% of the conference voted for California's Kevin McCarthy three times that day, so the sentiment was not a surprise. But the speaker was: Georgia's Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Since taking office in 2021, Greene has been known for her far-right rhetoric and aggressive public stances against those in power. That should have aligned her more with the nearly two dozen hardliner holdouts who prolonged the speaker vote in exchange for concessions.
But the new year and new Congress has placed Greene in the spotlight for a different reason: vocally supporting McCarthy in his quest to guide a narrow Republican majority and signaling to the party's flank that by supporting his leadership, he supports their agenda.
A power vacuum in the party
In the Trump era of politics, Greene has quickly become one of the most prolific fundraisers and attention-getters in the Republican Party — and not always for good reasons. Shortly after being sworn in in 2021, the Democratic-controlled House stripped Greene of her committee assignments for a cornucopia of online and in-person comments that dabbled in degrees of conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and other incendiary rhetoric that she has occasionally apologized for.
"I just wanted to come here today and say that I'm truly sorry for offending people with remarks about the Holocaust," she said in June 2021 after comparing mask mandates in the House to the murder of more than 6 million Jews and other people who were killed by Nazi Germany. "There's no comparison."
Her social media posts before she entered Congress included language suggesting support for executing top Democrats, her personal Twitter account was suspended for violating COVID misinformation policies (and was recently reinstated after Elon Musk took over the company) and she was part of a group of Republican lawmakers that objected to the certification of the 2020 election.
But heading into the 2022 midterms, when Republicans were projected to retake control of the House, Greene's political clout began expanding beyond the fringe of the party and into more of the mainstream. When McCarthy unveiled his "Commitment to America" policy agenda last fall, Greene was behind him — literally and metaphorically — as he spoke.
And now that Republicans only control the House by the narrowest of margins, Greene's unwavering support for McCarthy, alongside her unflinching commitment to ultraconservative policies, places her into a new nexus of power.
"I have the support of the base and I keep telling everyone here in Washington, this is what the American people want," Greene said on Fox News last week. "And it was easy for me to get on board with this agenda because I'd see the conference come around on the same things."
Jim Hobart, a Republican pollster and partner at Public Opinion Strategies, said there's a bit of a power vacuum for Republicans right now, especially in the House, which means an opportunity for someone like Greene to rise in prominence.
"I think that the congresswoman and other members of Congress realize, 'Hey, given this small majority that we have, I have an opportunity to exert influence if I choose to do so,' " he said. "And it looks like she's taking the path of trying to exert influence by perhaps working from the inside."
By having the ear of the House speaker, former President Donald Trump and a large swath of conservative voters, Greene sits in a unique spot in Washington and in this current Congress.
Georgia-based Republican strategist John Mason Long said Greene's evolution to work with leadership without alienating the base is smart, given the current dynamics where the House essentially needs the entire conference on the same page.
"What she knows she has to do is be an effective legislator," he said. "That's why she's got a great relationship with Speaker McCarthy and then she's got a great relationship with the other side of the party, that more Freedom Caucus side of the party."
What does Greene's rise mean for the GOP?
So what has changed from the last Congress to this one? Is it the Republican Party, Marjorie Taylor Greene, or a little bit of both?
"I don't know necessarily if Marjorie Taylor Greene has changed, she's just changed the tone of the way that she talks about things," Hobart said. "She's changed who she is talking to, and she's changed the focus in those conversations."
Greene is still quite outspoken in interviews and online, with recent tweets from her congressional account about auditing U.S. financial support for Ukraine mixed with a meme of President Biden's son in his underwear next to boxes marked "classified" and Biden's Corvette on her personal account.
Greene's political stances do not differ that much from the anti-McCarthy holdouts, but Long, the Georgia-based strategist, said the decision to wield her influence to be constructive within the party instead of obstructive will likely pay off in the long run if she has aspirations for higher office.
"She is playing the D.C. game while also knowing that she still has a base, and that base is more of that anti-establishment base," he said. "They still support her, just like a lot of people support former President Trump no matter what, they have that diehard loyalty factor."
Greene's alliance with McCarthy comes with more immediate benefits, too. The powerful House Republican Steering Committee, which handles committee assignments, is recommending Greene join the Homeland Security Committee, according to her spokesman. The spokesman also said more assignments are on the horizon for Green as the panel finalizes decisions.
Democrats still control the Senate and the White House, so even if Republicans in the House unify behind an agenda they won't be able to accomplish much on paper. But Greene's ascent into a seat at the table for the party is reinforced by a House rules package that is more conservative; legislative priorities will be driven by a new generation of committee chairs and lawmakers with more conservative views.
"Her rising influence is really a sign that this is a new type of Republican Party, there's a lot of new blood," Hobart said. "There are a lot of people who are going to wield a lot of power that have only been in office for two, three, four terms, just because of the amount of changeover that's happened in the House on the Republican side over the last couple of election cycles."
The potential trajectory of the House the next two years belies the outcome of last year's midterm election where voters opted for more moderate candidates in many contested battleground districts and comes as the GOP at large is grappling with its direction.
It's possible that Greene's rise in power and prominence are the beginnings of a greater shift within the party as some seek to merge the pro-Trump fervor of the party's base with actual governing — or it could merely be a byproduct of this particular moment in this particular majority in this particular Congress.
Copyright 2023 Georgia Public Broadcasting