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Will Greene's 'verbal assault' on AOC spark an ethics investigation?

Disagreements among members of Congress are routine and unavoidable. Marjorie Taylor Greene targeting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was something different.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene Holds Capitol Hill News Conference
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., pauses while speaking during a news conference outside the Capitol on Feb. 5, 2021.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Disagreements among members of Congress are routine and unavoidable. Indeed, such disputes among American lawmakers are as old as the country: officials are tasked with debating important matters, and it's inevitable that emotions will run high.

There's a qualitative difference, however, between lawmakers engaging in a heated debate and lawmakers accosting one another in a hallway. According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) targeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) outside the House chamber this week, it fell into the latter category -- and such behavior may require an ethics investigation.

Pelosi said at her weekly news conference that the incident, which she called a "verbal assault" and "abuse" of the New York Democrat, was reported to her leadership office. "It's so beyond the pale of anything that is in keeping with bringing honor to the House, or not bringing dishonor to the House. It's so beyond the pale that you wonder ... it probably is a matter for the Ethics Committee," Pelosi said.

The incident in question came on Wednesday, when Washington Post reporters saw the right-wing Georgian, whose record of radicalism cost her committee assignments, "aggressively confront" the Democratic congresswoman and demand to know why Ocasio-Cortez "supports terrorists." Greene also shouted for the New York lawmaker to defend her "radical socialist" beliefs in some kind of public debate.

Ocasio-Cortez, who's often known by her AOC initials, ignored Greene's tantrum and walked away.

"I used to work as a bartender. These are the kinds of people that I threw out of bars all the time," the congresswoman told reporters yesterday.

On the surface, it may be tempting to dismiss inconsequential confrontations like these. The Georgia Republican is obviously a fringe, clownish figure and a crackpot conspiracy theorist whose nonsense is not to be taken seriously.

But there's a larger context to incidents like these. As NBC News' report added, for example, the GOP extremist "has had prior incidents of accosting and chasing people in public she disagrees with." Indeed, CNN reported this morning that Greene has targeted Ocasio-Cortez, in particular, even taunting members of the New York congresswoman's staff and making obnoxious comments through a mailbox slot outside the Democrat's locked office.

This wasn't an example of misplaced activism from years past; we're talking about Greene's antics from 2019 -- the year before her election to Congress.

What's more, there's growing unease among many Democratic lawmakers that their physical safety might be at risk around some of the more extremist members of the Republican caucus.

It's against this backdrop that one of the most radical members in modern times chased down a colleague and shouted at her about "supporting terrorists."

Under normal circumstances, one might consider seeking a restraining order against such a person. Under these circumstances, that's not an option, because the unhinged bully is an elected member of Congress.

Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent yesterday, "Once again, Marjorie Taylor Greene has crossed the line. It's completely unacceptable. There's a pattern of behavior. I'm concerned that if we don't do something, it will continue to escalate."

The Rhode Island congressman added, "I'm going to ask the sergeant-at-arms to directly speak with Marjorie Taylor Greene and make it clear she can't confront other members of Congress.... I'm going to discuss what additional steps we can take to ensure that all members can come to work and feel safe."

In theory, Republican leaders could intervene before someone gets hurt, but I haven't seen any reporting about GOP officials taking any such steps, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has stood by Greene in the recent past.