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Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the US Senate, has intensified pressure on the extremist Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, calling the “loony lies and conspiracy theories” that she endorses a “cancer for the Republican party”.

In a statement to the Hill on Monday night, McConnell did not name Greene personally. But his excoriating attack was clearly targeted at the new member of Congress who is a fierce supporter of Donald Trump.

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Her embrace of the racist conspiracy theory QAnon and other extreme positions is causing turmoil among Republican lawmakers and across Congress.

“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,” McConnell said.

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In keeping with her defiant rejection of any criticism, Greene immediately fired back at McConnell through her Twitter feed. “The real cancer for the Republican party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully,” she said.

The intervention of the Republican Senate leader raises the ante in the debate about what to do with Greene. Democratic leaders in the House have indicated that they are prepared to expel her from several congressional committees should Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, fail to do so first.

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Just weeks into her arrival in Congress, Greene’s bizarre and offensive stances on a range of subjects have created a rising chorus of calls for her to be censured. She was filmed in 2019 harassing David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, which Greene has claimed was an “false flag” act of make-believe.

A CNN review of her Facebook posts also showed that she expressed support for the idea of executing prominent Democratic leaders including Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

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McConnell’s outspoken remarks on Greene can be seen as part of the delicate path he is trying to walk between the pro-Trump and post-Trump wings of the Republican party which are increasingly at loggerheads. Greene, a fervent member of the former group, has said that she recently talked with Trump and has his support.

The spiraling controversy comes just a week before Trump himself is set to face his second impeachment trial, on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” relating to the 6 January storming of the Capitol building. McConnell is walking a tightrope on that issue too, having suggested that he might be open to convicting the former president while also voting with most Republicans to dismiss the case on constitutional grounds.

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