But Greene and Gosar have little to lose. They were already stripped of their committees by Democrats last year, leaving McCarthy with few options to punish them even if he chose to. And some House Republicans argued that their leader has more pressing considerations.
“Dealing with dumb, stupid things people do in Congress should probably go down — and go pretty far down — on the list when you’ve got peacekeeping tanks rolling into a country that was not in conflict, when you’ve got record inflation, when you’ve got all of these things,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.).
“When Kevin figures out the time to deal with that, I’m sure he will,” Armstrong added. “But he’s got significantly more important things for the American people to focus on at this point right now.”
McCarthy’s office confirmed to POLITICO that he hasn’t yet spoken to the two but still plans to.
At the end of last week, multiple House Republicans shrugged off questions about the timing of McCarthy’s meeting with Greene and Gosar. It was not because they didn’t detest the duo’s decision to associate with Fuentes, who attended 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., has called for the U.S. to remain majority-white and compared Jews killed in concentration camps to cookies in an oven.
On the other hand, some have privately wondered if Democrats’ move to boot Greene and Gosar from committees was designed to create future headaches for Republicans by taking away their major recourse to punish two of their biggest conservative gadflies. A few Republicans privately even credit Speaker Nancy Pelosi — without evidence she acted that purposefully — for a smart political maneuver against Greene and Gosar.
One centrist Republican, who spoke about the flap on the condition of anonymity, lamented how few options the conference has to threaten Greene and Gosar now that Democrats have “fired all our shots” by stripping their panel assignments.
“I want them to shut up. Just stop it. What the hell is she thinking?” this Republican said. “[But] there’s nothing else. What else can Kevin do officially through the conference?”
While McCarthy could move to censure Greene and Gosar, the GOP conference doesn’t appear to have the appetite for it. Republicans argue Democrats have failed to punish some of their own members for incendiary remarks, with many pointing to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) past comments about Israel.
Even so, leadership’s lack of action marks a shift for House Republicans. Some in the GOP say former Speaker John Boehner would have told Greene and Gosar immediately to cut it out, as would former Speaker Paul Ryan. Back in 2019, McCarthy stripped then-Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of his committees after he questioned why the term “white nationalist” was considered offensive — though only after years of such rhetoric from King.
“There is a strategy of, ‘If we don’t talk about it, it will go away, and it won’t get attention.’ And sometimes that works,” said another rank-and-file Republican, also addressing the handling of Greene and Gosar on condition of anonymity. “But in the long run, I’ve always found that backfires, so they’re playing with fire by doing that.”
Still, the GOP alarm over Greene and Gosar’s alliance with a white nationalist went beyond leadership. House Freedom Caucus members, no strangers themselves to stirring up intraparty trouble, aired frustrations with Greene and Gosar during a private meeting last week, according to multiple people with knowledge of the discussion.
During the Freedom Caucus’ weekly sit-down, members talked about how to respond to press questions about Greene and Gosar’s participation in Fuentes’ America First Political Action Conference. Publicly, its members opted to broadly denounce racism when questioned about it, without condemning their two members.
Some group members were described as fuming that Greene had marred their embrace of former President Donald Trump’s America First platform by associating with Fuentes, who’s tied himself to its name. Fuentes has said that Trump was “awesome because he was racist” and “awesome because he was sexist.”
Freedom Caucus members such as Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), as much as they steered clear of Greene or Gosar, didn’t shrink from attacking Fuentes.
Fuentes is “corrupting” the politics of America First as coined by Trump, said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a member of the Freedom Caucus.
When Gosar attended Fuentes’ conference last year, he later tried to distance himself from the event in the face of political blowback. But he wouldn’t denounce Fuentes or say that he regretted attending, instead arguing that he was trying to speak to a new audience of voters.
Greene offered a similar response to the flap this year over her association with the white nationalist group, saying she would not “cancel others in the conservative movement,” even if she found their remarks “tasteless, misguided, or even repulsive at times.”
She did not cite Fuentes by name, which some colleagues saw as a stark contrast from her willingness to criticize fellow Republican lawmakers. The Georgian called out McCarthy by name while supporting Texas GOP candidate Christian Collins against Morgan Luttrell, backed by the minority leader, in last week’s primary battle for a deep-red House seat. (Luttrell beat Collins easily.)
McCarthy and other GOP leaders followed a playbook last year when responding to questions about extremism in their ranks: They issued blanket statements condemning white supremacy and bigotry, but their statements were typically devoid of naming the members at fault and the people they chose to associate with.
If it was meant to deter members from attending again, it didn’t work. Gosar appeared at Fuentes’ conference again this year via video, while Greene attended in person. So McCarthy took his criticism further and vowed to talk to the two.
No matter what happens during that conversation, if it occurs, some of his members saw a potential upside for McCarthy thanks to outside calls for Greene and Gosar to be removed from the conference outright: less right-wing pressure to oust Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) over their involvement in the Democratic-led Jan. 6 select committee.