WASHINGTON – Between Reps. Liz Cheney and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republicans are doing a Donald Trump two-step – distancing themselves from the ex-president at times, moving closer to him at others.
In keeping Cheney, R-Wyo., in her leadership role, House Republicans essentially said they would not let Trump and his allies dictate how to handle disputes within the party.
In protecting Taylor Greene, R-Ga., meanwhile, Republicans also indicated they would not overtly alienate Trump and his most fervent supporters, even as Democrats try to lump them in with the insurrections who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
"Everyone has said things they wish they didn't say, everyone has done things they wish they didn't do," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, an outspoken Trump supporter. "So who's next? Who will the cancel culture attack next?"
The Democratic-led House voted Thursday to remove Greene from two committees, citing past statements and social media posts that espoused conspiracy theories, suggested school shootings had been staged, and appeared to endorse violence against political opponents.
Only 11 of the 211 House Republicans voted against Greene.
Even Cheney voted to keep Greene on her committees. While Greene "has espoused opinions that have no place in our public discourse," Cheney said, "it is our responsibility as Republicans to address these issues inside our own conference."
But Republicans who have criticized Greene's conduct also said they want to try to maintain party unity in the face of Joe Biden's presidency and a Congress with two Democratic-controlled chambers. As both parties look to the 2022 midterms, the rift in the Republican party continues to take center stage.
Can Republicans move past Trump while also keeping his voters?
The furor over Green comes less than a week before the Senate impeachment trial of Trump on charges that he incited the deadly attack, designed to overturn his election loss to Biden, on the Capitol last month.
It reflects another turn in a delicate dance the Republicans are engaged in with voters –and each other.
Some Republicans want to move past Trump, but hold onto the 74 million voters he racked up in last year's election. (Biden earned 81 million votes.)
Other Republicans, including the most outspoken supporters of Greene, want to embrace Trump and his political base, arguing their support is vital as Republicans try to win back control of the House and the Senate.
House Republicans discussed Greene's fate during a meeting on Wednesday night, with some members reportedly giving her a standing ovation after she expressed contrition for some of her past statements.
At that same meeting, Republicans voted to keep Cheney as the House's third-ranking Republican, despite her impeachment vote against Trump. The former president and his allies wanted to demote Cheney, but she found support among both House and Senate Republican leadership. When it came to a vote, Cheney retained her position easily
Afterward, Republicans told reporters they are seeking "big tent" unity as they battle Biden and the Democratic Congress.
In announcing that his caucus would not punish Greene, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said he condemned "past comments from and endorsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene on school shootings, political violence, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."
Greene says the 'words of the past ... do not represent me'
Greene, meanwhile, has raised money off of the controversy, sending out solicitations that feature a picture of her standing next to Trump. She has said repeatedly that she is being attacked solely because of her conservative, pro-Trump views.
Though she expressed some regret, Greene never apologized during a speech on the House floor Thursday.
“During my campaign, I never said any of these things,” she said. “... These were words of the past and these things do not represent me, they do not represent my district, and they do not represent my values.”
Hours before the House voted on her committee assignments, Greene tweeted that "it’s not just me they want to cancel. They want to cancel every Republican. Don’t let the mob win."
Democrats said Republican defenses of Taylor will make it easier for them to make GOP "extremism" a major issue as they try to hold their slim majorities in the House and Senate.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running ads in seven Republican-held House districts linking the GOP, Greene, and the conspiracy cult know as QAnon.
“Washington Republicans are too weak to stop the QAnon mob that's taking over their party, and they just showed that fact to the world," said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But Republicans counter that Democrats are the ones playing politics. They've argued that the majority party should focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and boosting the economy. They also said Democrats have avoided disciplining their left-wing extremists.
“Republicans are going to continue hammering House Democrats for their job-killing, socialist agenda and leave elevating fringe conspiracies to Democrats," said Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Republican House members are quick to point out that, even as Trump lost the White House and the party lost control of the Senate, Republicans still picked up seats in the House. The Democrats currently enjoy only a 10-seat advantage in the U.S. House.
The president's political party often does badly in mid-term elections, and Republicans are confident that pattern will hold in the era of Biden.
Some Republicans, however, still hold that their party will suffer if it is seen as the party of Trump and the insurrectionists and conspiracy theories who follow him.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who has created a political action committee to combat Trump's influence in the Republican Party, said the actions of extremists need to be called out.
"This party desperately needs to be a normal, functional party for this country," Kinzinger told MSNBC. "And we're not on the path to that right now."