WASHINGTON – Democrats rebuked Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Thursday over her confrontational approach toward Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as tensions between the two parties escalate over the safety of the Capitol as a workplace and the level of security needed following the Jan. 6 attack.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said early Thursday that the Georgia congresswoman’s “verbal assault” on Ocasio-Cortez of New York was “so beyond the pale” that it should be investigated by the House Ethics Committee.
“This is beneath the dignity of a person serving in the Congress of the United States and is a cause for trauma and fear among members,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said during her weekly news conference.
On Wednesday afternoon, Greene followed Ocasio-Cortez out of the House chamber, quickening her pace behind her and shouting accusations that the New York Democrat supports terrorists and was a “radical socialist” who didn’t “care about the American people.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s office said Wednesday night that Greene was “screaming” at the congresswoman and called on leadership to ensure Congress remains “a safe, civil place for all Members and staff.”
The tension over the episode illustrated the deteriorating relationship between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill following the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack by a mob of Donald Trump supporters who echoed the former president’s false claims that the election was stolen.
Democrats expressed anger this week at comments from Republican lawmakers downplaying the attack, which included Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., saying at a hearing Wednesday that “if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”
The breach featured deadly clashes between the police and members of the mob, the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812.
Democrats said they fear Greene’s aggressive style is only an example of what they could face on the campaign trail and at townhalls once they begin to move from virtual to in-person events.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who serves as the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Capitol Police, said it’s necessary to increase security for members and to examine how officers should intervene if confrontations happen again.
“To me, it’s very uncivilized behavior, and I think it does put an extra target on members that [Greene] is going after somebody. Then her followers will continue to target AOC and ‘The Squad.’ So it’s really unfortunate, and I think it is dangerous” he said.
Greene, a freshman, has been a particularly controversial figure due to her extremist comments and false statements.
Ocasio-Cortez said Thursday that her problem with Greene was less with how she acted toward her Wednesday afternoon than what her behavior represents more broadly.
“I refuse to allow young women, people of color, people who are standing up for what they believe, to see this kind of intimidation attempts by a person who supports white supremacists,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
She also said that when she worked as a bartender, Greene was the kind of person she “threw out of bars all the time.”
Greene has been needling Ocasio-Cortez since arriving in Washington and repeatedly calling on the New York congresswoman to debate her over the Green New Deal, a set of environmental policies meant to combat climate change.
“She’s a coward and she’s a fraud, and she’s a fake. If she can’t come out and defend her policy, the Green New Deal, in the chamber where we debate things on C-SPAN, which everyone can watch, then she’s the one that’s a coward and she’s a bully to the American people for wanting to force socialism on them,” Greene said Thursday.
Greene has been the most high-profile Republican freshman, but she is not the only one whose comments have caused great consternation across the aisle.
Clyde, also a freshman, accused the press on Thursday of taking his remarks at the hearing out of context before declining to take questions asking him to clarify what he meant.
“This wasn’t any Tuesday; this wasn’t any picnic or high school class tour here. [Republicans] know exactly what happened,” Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., said about the Jan. 6 attack. “You talk about cancel culture; people lost their lives here. People were wounded, maimed, traumatized – any one of us could’ve been killed. They had a noose out here and they say it was just a tour, just any old time?”
Democrats have been working on a spending bill to improve security at the Capitol that is expected to include more funding for security for lawmakers.
Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., added that leadership should get involved to try to establish a return of true decorum in the House, including by banning political masks. Greene has often worn messages on her masks but so have Democrats.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., for example, wore his “EXPEL MTG,” Greene’s nickname, on his mask during votes Thursday in light of the Georgia congresswoman’s latest actions. He previously introduced a resolution to expel Greene from Congress, which continues to garner support from Democrats but has not been introduced by Democratic leadership for a floor vote.
There was no signal from Republican leadership that they would condemn Greene’s behavior. Asked whether he would meet with her to again to go over her controversial actions, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that he had not read the reports about her confronting Ocasio-Cortez.
“I haven’t talked to her. I don’t know anything about that,” he said.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who was ousted from leadership for repeatedly denouncing Trump’s false claim about the election, criticized Greene for failing to show decorum and “engage in a battle of ideas” in a respectful way.
“I’m not sure there are very many – if any – political issues I agree with AOC on, but I think it’s very important for us as a country to be able to engage in those debates in a way that is civil and in a way where we know we are confident that our ideas will prevail,” she said.
Before she was in Congress, Greene was an online conservative provocateur and shared or liked posts that included threats of violence against Democratic politicians. She has also expressed support for the radical ideology of QAnon, a sprawling set of false claims that have coalesced into an extremist ideology that has radicalized its followers, some of whom participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Early Thursday, Greene used Twitter to again accuse Ocasio-Cortez of supporting terrorists, falsely claiming that she backs Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, and the far-left antifa movement as well as lumping Black Lives Matter in with those groups.
Ocasio-Cortez has been critical of Israel over its ongoing military assault in the Gaza Strip, saying Palestinian human rights have been violated, but she has also called Hamas’s rocket attacks “condemnable.”
Greene also referred to the “squad” of four liberal congresswomen of color and Vice President Harris, who is also a woman of color, as the “JihadSquad.”
“The Squad” is a nickname that Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., gave themselves after bonding at their freshman orientation in 2018. Trump, who often attacked the four women, once used a racist trope, telling his supporters that the four congresswomen should “go back” to the countries they came from. Only Omar, a Somali American who arrived in the country as a refugee, was born abroad.
Omar and Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. – who this year had a confrontation with Greene – declined to comment on the Georgia congresswoman’s actions toward Ocasio-Cortez.
Some Democrats are warily eyeing the next recess later this month. Wild reflected on her last in-person town hall, which she described as “incredibly ugly,” and expressed worry that tensions could only escalate for many members.
“For those of us who signed up for this job because we want to do good things, it’s very fatiguing to constantly have people hurling accusations or calling your name, and I don’t even get nearly as much of it as some of my colleagues,” she said, before turning to Ocasio-Cortez passing in the hallway and shouting, “Hang in there, Alex!”