During previously unreported meetings last summer, House Republican leaders discussed — but then largely set aside — fears that QAnon-supporting conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene would end up a flaming trainwreck for their party.
Why it matters: Greene has emerged not just as an embarrassment but a challenge for the GOP, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy now forced to weigh whether to maintain his policy of sanctioning members who make dangerous statements.
In a series of conversations described to Axios by sources with direct knowledge of their contents, former Rep. Mark Walker was especially vocal about the "crazy" Greene. Reps. Liz Cheney and Steve Scalise also spoke up. But McCarthy and others ultimately did little to stop her.
- A spokesperson for Greene did not respond to a call or email from Axios.
Behind the scenes: John Cowan, Greene's opponent in August's primary runoff for Georgia's 14th District seat, recalls separate conversations he had with McCarthy and Scalise, the House GOP whip, in which both men acknowledged Greene was a serious problem for the party.
- Cowan detailed a phone conversation he had with McCarthy in July, during which he warned him about wild opposition research they had against Greene.
- "I said, 'She's bad for the party,'" Cowan told Axios during a 30-minute interview Thursday. "I said she has real problems and does not represent, at least what I think of as, someone who would be allowed even in a big-tented party. I mean, at some point, you have to say, 'No shoes, no shirt, no service.'"
- While both McCarthy and Scalise condemned Greene, and Scalise endorsed and raised money for and donated to Cowan, it wasn't enough to overcome the vocal support for Greene from Trump's then-chief of staff Mark Meadows.
The backing of Meadows, his wife, Debbie, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio was so strong that Cowan never had a real shot against Greene, he said.
- "The House Freedom Caucus put their fingers on the scale in a big way," said Cowan, a neurosurgeon. "By default it was sort of, 'She must be Trump's person.' If those guys are going to bat for her, she must be Trump’s endorsed person.”
Greene also came up repeatedly during McCarthy's leadership meetings last summer, a source with direct knowledge told Axios.
- Scalise, Cheney and Walker gathered for the weekly meeting in the conference room of McCarthy's office in the Capitol and plotted how they should deal with her.
- Walker, now running for North Carolina's open Senate seat in 2022, strenuously argued they needed to do more to stop this "crazy" woman who threatened to bring down the party, according to a source with direct knowledge.
- Cheney (R-Wyo.) also spoke up aggressively in these meetings about the danger of having Greene in the party.
- Scalise (R-La.) and McCarthy (R-Calif.) ended up putting out statements condemning her, yet McCarthy didn't do much beyond that once it was clear she was going to win the race by a healthy margin.
The bottom line: "Everybody was well aware of her previous persona and who she is. I would say they all knew she was going to be a problem," Cowan told Axios.
- "Maybe they just assumed that the awe of winning an election would calm her down a little bit, and so she would actually be interested in governing and he interested in policy, and she's just clearly not. She is literally there for a stage production."