McCarthy criticizes GOP members who spoke at white nationalist conference

House Republican leaders once again are struggling to contain the nativism and ties to white nationalism in their ranks as they eye taking over the chamber’s majority this year.

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) drew condemnation even from some fellow Republicans for participating in a conference over the weekend organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes. 

For days, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who is banking on support from members of the far right like Greene in his quest to become Speaker — refrained from publicly criticizing Greene or Gosar for appearing at the America First Political Action Conference.

It’s a game plan that McCarthy has repeatedly adopted over the past year with the more extreme elements present in the House GOP conference: engage controversial members privately but avoid alienating them with any public criticism. 

While that strategy helps limit public GOP infighting in the moment, it also means that extremism routinely goes unchallenged by top party leaders.

But on Monday, in a rare rebuke, McCarthy broke his silence and said Greene and Gosar’s participation in the conference was “unacceptable.”

“There’s no place in our party for any of this,” McCarthy told CNN.

McCarthy also said Greene should have turned around after hearing Fuentes’s remarks warming up the crowd before introducing her on stage, saying, “with that introduction, you should have walked off stage.”

“The party should not be associated, any time, any place, with somebody who is antisemitic,” McCarthy said.

Several Republicans had already distanced themselves from the white nationalist conference days before McCarthy. 

The Republicans who publicly denounced Greene’s and Gosar’s appearances at the conference largely included the handful who have been more willing to denounce far-right extremism and the party’s continued embrace of former President Trump, such as Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah). 

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel distanced herself from the conference, saying in a statement: “White supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry are disgusting and do not have a home in the Republican Party.”

Across the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who has distanced himself from Trump and the far right more than McCarthy has — made similar remarks earlier Monday.

“There’s no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or anti-Semitism,” McConnell said in a statement.

Gosar addressed the conference last year and spoke via a prerecorded video this year. Greene participated in person on Friday at the conference in Orlando, where she was already in town to also speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Greene repeatedly stood by her participation in the America First conference and claimed to CBS News that she didn’t know about Fuentes’s views. In a lengthy statement late Sunday, Greene maintained that she “won’t cancel others in the conservative movement.”

“The Pharisees in the Republican Party may attack me for being willing to break barriers and speak to a lost generation of young people who are desperate for love and leadership. But I won’t abandon these young men and women, because I believe we need to do better by them,” Greene said.

“I won’t cancel others in the conservative movement, even if I find some of their statements tasteless, misguided or even repulsive at times. I encourage them to seek wisdom, and apologize to those who have been hurt by their words, as I’ve had to do. Our faith calls for charity and forgiveness,” Greene continued.

House GOP leaders like to point to the record diversity in their freshman class elected in 2020, which featured the first Republican Korean American and Native American women elected to Congress and the highest-ever number of Republican women.

But since the 2020 election, both Gosar and Greene have repeatedly been accused of appearing to indulge white nationalism.

Last year, they considered forming an “America First Caucus” with a manifesto that declared “America is a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”

House GOP leaders stepped in to quash the idea.

McCarthy obliquely criticized the proposed caucus manifesto, tweeting that “the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans — not nativist dog whistles.”

And Cheney, who was still House conference chairwoman at the time, said the GOP is a party of “equal opportunity” and “tolerance” that rejects “racism, nativism, and antisemitism.”

Greene and Gosar ultimately abandoned the idea and claimed the manifesto was an unvetted draft that had been written by an outside group.

But now, nearly 11 months later, Cheney is persona non grata within the House GOP after she was booted from her leadership position for repeatedly pushing back against Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. McCarthy and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who replaced Cheney as House GOP conference chair, have since joined Trump in endorsing her GOP primary opponent.

Cheney implored her former colleagues in GOP leadership to push back on what she called “a toxin in the bloodstream of America.”

“House GOP Leaders: Have you lost all sense of decency?” Cheney tweeted.

Kinzinger appeared pessimistic that leadership would try to marginalize Greene.

"Yes Liz, they have lost all decency,” Kinzinger replied.

Greene and Gosar, meanwhile, both command followings on the far right. 

Fuentes, who has been labeled as a white supremacist by the Justice Department and the Anti-Defamation League and has been banned from major social media platforms, previously called the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol “awesome.”

At one point during the conference, Fuentes said: “Now they’re going on about Russia and Vladimir Putin is Hitler — and they say that’s not a good thing.”

Even if Greene were not familiar with Fuentes’s views before the uproar, she was in a position to have heard a taste of his platform before speaking to the conference.

Moments before introducing Greene on stage, Fuentes mocked the value of diversity and said that “our secret sauce” is “young white men.”

“America and the world has forgotten about them, but not us,” he said.

And amid Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, Fuentes asked the crowd to “give a round of applause for Russia.” Attendees chanted: “Putin! Putin!”

As he announced Greene’s entrance, Fuentes said: “I think this is going to be the beginning of something great.”

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