December 3, 2021

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House, Mostly Along Party Lines, Censures Gosar for Violent Video – The New York Times

7 min read

WASHINGTON — A bitterly divided U.S. House of Representatives voted narrowly on Wednesday to censure Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting an animated video that depicted him killing a Democratic congresswoman and assaulting President Biden.

The formal rebuke of the far-right congressman who has allied himself with white nationalists — the first censure since 2010 and only the 24th in the history of the republic — also stripped him of his committee assignments. The vast majority of Republicans opposed the move against Mr. Gosar, whose conduct G.O.P. leaders have refused to publicly condemn, the latest sign of the party’s growing tolerance of menacing statements.

The vote was 223 to 207, with just two Republicans, Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, joining Democrats in favor. One other Republican, Representative David Joyce of Ohio, voted “present.”

The vote, and the incendiary, emotional and personal debate leading up to it, laid bare the divisions of the moment, when Democrats say they must speak out against vicious threats and imagery that could give rise to the kind of violence that unfolded during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. That attack hung heavily over Wednesday’s debate.

“When a member uses his or her national platform to encourage violence, tragically, people listen,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said, adding that “depictions of violence can foment actual violence, as witnessed by this chamber on Jan. 6, 2021.”

Republicans, giving voice to the grievances of their base, contended that their rights as the political minority were being trampled by an unfettered and out-of-control Democratic majority. They said the rapid move to pass a censure resolution exposed the Democrats’ true agenda: silencing conservatives by branding them as instigators of violence.

“There’s an old definition of abuse of power: rules for thee but not for me,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, said, repeating the phrase over and over. Going through a litany of House Democrats who have offended Republicans, he warned that every one of them might soon be serving — and potentially penalized — under the rules of a Republican-led House.

“It’s about control,” he said.

At that, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the target of the video’s violence, stood to address Mr. McCarthy. “What is so hard about saying that this is wrong?” she demanded. “This is not about me. This is not about Representative Gosar. This is about what we are willing to accept.”

The last time the House censured one of its members, the vote capped months of humiliating headlines over tax evasion, self-dealing and other ethical lapses that had blemished the reputation of one of Congress’s most powerful and colorful characters, Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York. Ms. Pelosi herself read out that rebuke, which passed overwhelmingly with the support of many Democrats.

The proceedings this time were starkly partisan, with Republicans rushing to Mr. Gosar’s defense. His offense was at once more trivial — the posting online of a crudely edited video drawn from a popular anime series — and more sinister. In his video, Mr. Gosar is depicted slashing the neck of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, amid imagery of violence meted out against hordes of refugees and migrants.

Mr. Gosar showed no remorse. On the contrary, he sat impassively in the chamber listening to most of the debate, and stood to tell the House in a defiant speech: “I reject the false narrative categorically.”

After the vote, Mr. Gosar appeared in the well of the House to receive his censure with a coterie of strident conservatives standing behind him. He did not speak, as Mr. Rangel had 11 years ago, but accepted handshakes and well wishes from the Republicans who rallied behind him.

During the debate, Republican lawmakers rose in turn to back Mr. Gosar. They complained of a debasement of the power to censure by Ms. Pelosi that they argued was of a piece with two impeachments of a Republican president, the rejection of Republicans chosen by G.O.P. leadership for the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and the House’s action earlier this year to strip another member of their party, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, of her committee assignments for offensive social media posts that predated her political career.

“She’s created precedents that are going to reverberate for decades to come,” said Representative Rodney Davis, Republican of Illinois, who added that Ms. Pelosi had “torn the fabric of this House apart.”

And many warned that a Republican majority — which could come as soon as 2023 — would not hesitate to take advantage of the precedents set by Democrats.

Mr. McCarthy singled out Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, whom he accused of fomenting violence when she spoke to racial justice protesters in Minneapolis last year, telling them to “get more confrontational.”

Ms. Greene recited a long list of potential targets that included Representatives Eric Swalwell of California, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Adam B. Schiff of California.

“They are really setting an ugly precedent, and the bad news for Democrats is that we’re going to take back the House and we’re going to hold the majority,” Ms. Greene said.

Tit-for-tat has precedent. Democrats moved quickly against Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997 for ethical lapses after Mr. Gingrich went after their speaker, Jim Wright, in 1989.

The video in question depicts more than just violence against elected Democrats. It is a slightly altered version of the opening sequence of the popular anime series “Attack on Titan,” in which humanity has been decimated and a few homogeneous survivors are living behind fortified walls, their insular elite manipulating youthful, idealistic warriors who defend the community against invading giants, known as titans.

In the clip, the face of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is edited onto the body of an invading titan, and Mr. Gosar’s face is atop one of the manipulated warriors defending the besieged.

Not only does Mr. Gosar’s character kill Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s, and swing swords at one with the face of Mr. Biden, but the makers of the video also include images of refugees and migrants making their way into the United States only to be repelled by brutal force.

The style of content is not unusual for Mr. Gosar, who for years has elevated conspiracy theories and other bizarre content from the far-right reaches of the internet. He has made common cause with white nationalists from the America First movement, becoming the only member of Congress to speak at their conference earlier this year.

Mr. Gosar has not apologized for posting the video, downplaying it as “symbolic” and privately blaming staff aides for circulating it.

“There is no threat in the cartoon other than the threat of immigration,” Mr. Gosar said on Wednesday during his remarks to the House.

No Republicans spoke against Mr. Gosar during the debate, but Ms. Cheney defended her vote for censure.

“I don’t think this should be an issue about party, about partisan politics,” Ms. Cheney said. “If a Democrat had done this, that would require censure as well.”

She and Mr. Kinzinger have both broken sharply with their party since Jan. 6, frequently criticizing Republican leaders for failing to condemn violence and misinformation. Mr. Joyce sits on the Ethics Committee and said he wanted to remain “fair and impartial” on an issue the panel still planned to review.

But most Republicans argued that posting a video, which was later taken down, did not approximate recent offenses that have led to censure, including sexual misconduct with teenagers, tax evasion and bribery.

In earlier days of the republic, censure was far more common, and its use often reflected the era. The first censure, in 1832, landed on Representative William Stanbery for insulting the speaker. Then came the run-up to and prosecution of the Civil War: Joshua Giddings was censured in 1842 for “unwarranted and unwarrantable” conduct after presenting a series of antislavery resolutions that violated a House gag rule against even discussing slavery; Laurence M. Keitt received one in 1856, for assisting the infamous caning of an abolitionist senator by a pro-slavery House member; then two members did in 1864 for encouraging and supporting the Confederacy.

Between 1866 and 1875, 11 members were censured, for actual violence — Lovell H. Rousseau assaulted Representative Josiah B. Grinnell with a cane — corruption (such as selling military academy appointments) and “unparliamentary language.”

Censure fell out of favor, and the bar for it was raised considerably, in the 20th century. In 1978, Representative Charles C. Diggs was censured after he was convicted on 11 counts of mail fraud and 18 counts of false statements in a payroll fraud investigation. On one day in 1983, Representatives Gerry E. Studds and Daniel B. Crane were both censured for having sex with 17-year-old congressional pages, criminal offenses that would likely warrant a far more dramatic response today.

The censure in 2010 of Mr. Rangel, then the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, came after he had been found by the Ethics Committee to have committed 11 violations.

Mr. Gosar has neither the lengthy career of Mr. Rangel nor his stature. But he has considerable influence in far-right circles around the country. He insisted on Wednesday that he never meant to incite or depict violence against a member of Congress, but was targeting the immigration policies of the Biden administration and its supporters. And he indicated he would carry his censure with pride.

“If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person attempted to be censured by this House, so be it,” he said. “It is done.”

The House considered, but rejected, a series of censure resolutions against Mr. Hamilton in 1793, when he was secretary of the Treasury.

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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