clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kevin McCarthy’s remarkable flip-flop from “there’s no place for QAnon” to “I don’t even know what it is”

The House Republican leader defends Marjorie Taylor Greene by insulting everyone’s intelligence.

US House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 21.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed during a Fox News interview last August that “there’s no place for QAnon in the Republican Party.” But it turns out there is a spot for the conspiracy theory that former President Donald Trump is fighting against a satanic pedophilic cabal run by prominent Democrats — and it’s on the House Education and Labor Committee.

During a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, McCarthy’s caucus decided not only to not sanction QAnon-embracing first-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) — who in addition to QAnon has endorsed the murder of the House speaker and was filmed harassing a survivor of a school shooting she claimed was a staged attack — but is going forward with plans to place her on the education and budget committees.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, McCarthy said during a press conference that Greene made remarks “denouncing QAnon” — something she has not done publicly — then added, “I don’t even know what [QAnon] is.”

McCarthy proclaiming ignorance about a conspiracy theory that played a crucial role in motivating the January 6 insurrection that left five people dead is hard to believe, given that he’s had to repeatedly weigh in on the topic. But it’s indicative of how the theory has moved toward the mainstream of Republican politics in recent months — and the tacit acceptance of mainstream leaders of the party.

McCarthy said during the aforementioned Fox News interview that QAnon had no place in the party. But during the closing months of the 2020 campaign, he and other Republican leaders (including Trump) did nothing to ostracize Greene and other QAnon-backing Republicans. Then, after Greene and Lauren Boebert, another Republican who has expressed support for the conspiracy theory, won seats in Congress, McCarthy told reporters last November that “both of them have denounced” QAnon — something neither of them has done publicly.

Watch the evolution of McCarthy’s QAnon statements:

It’s not entirely clear exactly what Greene told her House Republican colleagues during Wednesday’s meeting. Politico reported that she “apologized to the conference for her past rhetoric about 9/11 and school shootings being hoaxes and other QAnon-adjacent conspiracies that she previously peddled,” but the Hill says she “defended her comments that past school shootings were staged by stating that she had personal experience with a school shooting.” One thing we do know from all reports about the meeting, however, is that her comments earned a standing ovation from some members.

Regardless of what she said in private, in public Greene has been completely unrepentant about recent revelations regarding her activities both on social media and in public, tweeting last Thursday that she “won’t back down” and will “never apologize,” and using the firestorm created by her comments as a fundraising opportunity.

McCarthy’s approach stands in contrast to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Monday released a scathing statement that doesn’t mention Greene by name but makes no doubt that he views her professed beliefs as “cancer for the Republican Party and our country.”

“Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” McConnell said, before going on to mention a few of the many conspiracy theories she’s embraced. “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality.”

The problem for McCarthy is that QAnon is more popular with the Republican base than people would like to believe — a YouGov poll conducted last month found that 30 percent of Republican voters respond positively to the conspiracy theory — so by denouncing it and banishing Greene from committees, the House Republican leader risks alienating a significant portion of the GOP base.

So instead of taking a firm stand against the types of conspiracy theories that motivated bands of Trump supporters to storm the Capitol last month, McCarthy is opting for feigned ignorance, while at the same time trying to weaponize the issue by pushing false equivalences in a statement he released Wednesday between QAnon believers and Democrats like Reps. Maxine Waters and Ilhan Omar.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are moving forward with a floor vote to do what Republicans will not and strip Greene of her committee assignments. During a hearing on Wednesday, rules committee chair Jim McGovern (D-MA) acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the vote Democrats are planning to force, but said “if the new precedent here is that a member of this House is calling for assassinations ... if that’s the standard that we remove people from committees, I’m fine with that.”