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Gosar censured, stripped from committees over threatening video

Republicans line up behind Arizona Republican and downplay seriousness of video he tweeted

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has been censured by the House for posting a video that showed a cartoon version of him killing a fellow member of Congress.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has been censured by the House for posting a video that showed a cartoon version of him killing a fellow member of Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Wednesday voted 223-207 to censure Arizona Republican Paul Gosar and remove him from his committee roles for posting an animated video that depicted him killing New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an action he has refused to acknowledge as inappropriate.

Two Republicans joined all Democrats to force Gosar off of the Oversight and Reform and Natural Resources panels and take the rare act of censuring him, which is reserved for “more serious violations” and a step below expulsion. One Republican, Ohio’s David Joyce, voted present.

The only two Republicans who voted to discipline Gosar were the only two GOP members of the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack: Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, who serves as vice chair, and Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger. Both have become outcasts within their party for criticizing former President Donald Trump’s behavior and rhetoric.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi read the rebuke as Gosar stood in the chamber’s well to receive his public shaming. Gosar stood without a mask looking up at Pelosi as she read the censure resolution. He was flanked in the well by several Republicans, including Reps. Andrew Clyde and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

Greene was stripped of her committee assignments earlier this year for several instances of misconduct, including liking a Facebook comment in 2019 that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove Pelosi from the speakership. The last member censured by the House before Gosar was New York Democrat Charles B. Rangel in 2010 for a string of ethical violations, and prior to that, the most recent cases were in the early 1980s. 

It was an unprecedented move to strip Gosar of his committee assignments and censure him in the same action.

Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, the ranking member of the Rules panel, said the action “tramples on the traditional norms of the House” by having the majority party remove a member of the minority party from their committees. He said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took action by calling Gosar to tell him the video was inappropriate, which led to Gosar deleting the video and issuing a statement.

Pointing fingers

On the floor Wednesday, McCarthy sought to cast Democrats as the violent ones.

The theme of the California Republican’s speech was “rules for thee but not for me,” in which he made several incongruent comparisons. “Democrats want to change the rules but refuse to apply them to their own caucus,” he said.

McCarthy referenced several instances that were not examples of a member calling for violence against another member. He mentioned a time when California Democrat Maxine Waters was not formally reprimanded for comments she made during the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. Democrats defeated a measure to censure her for telling protesters that if Chauvin was acquitted they should “get more confrontational.”

McCarthy also referred to California’s Eric Swalwell being targeted by a suspected Chinese spy and to anti-Semitic rhetoric by Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, neither of which resulted in them losing their committee assignments.

“Let me be clear: I do not condone violence, and Representative Gosar had echoed that sentiment. The video was deleted. But Democrats won’t listen because they will do anything to distract from the failures of one-party rule in one year destroying a nation,” the minority leader said.

McCarthy said there will be retribution and that “under the Pelosi precedent, all the members that I have mentioned earlier will need the approval of a majority to keep those positions in the future.”

On the floor, Gosar said the video was not “dangerous” or “threatening” but depicted a “policy battle” over “illegal aliens.” 

“I do not espouse violence towards anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset. I voluntarily took the cartoon down not because it was itself a threat but because some thought it was. Out of compassion for those who generally felt offense, I self-censored,” he said.

Then he compared himself to one of the Founding Fathers: “If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person attempted to be censored by this House, so be it. It is done.”

New York Rep. John Katko, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said the censure was “overly broad” and “took some swipes at the Republican Party as a whole.” He said any formal disciplinary move should be up to GOP leadership.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said that when his staff showed him the video, he “couldn’t see the stuff they were talking about.”

Pelosi did not seem swayed.

“These actions demand a response,” the California Democrat said. “We cannot have a member joking about murdering each other or threatening the president of the United States. This is both an endangerment of our elected officials and an insult to the institution of the House of Representatives.” (The animated video Gosar posted also showed him attacking President Joe Biden with swords.)

‘Cut and dry’

Ocasio-Cortez said in a floor speech that such depictions are part of a larger trend of “racist misogyny” that has resulted in “dampening the participation” of those who are targeted.

“And so this vote is not as complex as perhaps the Republican leader would like to make folks believe. It’s pretty cut and dry. Does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable? Would you allow depictions of violence against women, against colleagues? Would you allow that in your home? Do you think this should happen on a school board? In a city council? In a church? And if it’s not acceptable there, why should it be accepted here?” she said.

Gosar sat in the back of the chamber, alone, looking down as debate on his censure progressed. When votes were being taken, Gosar and Greene embraced with Gosar putting his left arm around Greene.

Pennsylvania Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon, citing the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection and increased threats against members, said Gosar’s actions must be held accountable and taken seriously.

“So when a member of this Congress fantasizes in public about beheading another member of Congress, it is not fantasy to think that there are Americans out there who take such a video as a call to action,” she said.

“His behavior promotes violence, and if he were working in any other workplace he would have been fired,” said California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House Administration Committee.

When asked why the Democrats haven’t taken the step to expel Gosar, Lofgren said, “As a practical matter it takes a two-thirds vote to expel, and you can see that the Republicans are defending his misconduct.”

Originally, Gosar was only going to be kicked off the Oversight Committee and remain on Natural Resources, but Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and his staff pushed to get Gosar off that panel as well. “Initially, we were left off that list, and we felt that if we’re going to do that action on Oversight, that Resources has to be included as well, and they did,” Grijalva said.

Gosar posted the video on his official Twitter account on Nov. 7. He then used his personal Twitter to quote tweet the video and commended his staff’s work in composing it, noting their “creativity” was “off the hook.”

Gosar has since removed the posts and taken down the video. He issued a statement on Nov. 9, but instead of apologizing said the video had been mischaracterized and was “in no way intended to be a targeted attack against Representative Cortez or Mr. Biden.”

Gosar addressed the GOP Conference at a Tuesday meeting in which he spoke for a few minutes and told colleagues the video was never meant to espouse violence. The members felt Gosar took it seriously and they were ready to move on, according to a source who was present.

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