The Arizona Republican becomes the first House member censured in over a decade
The House of Representatives has voted to censure Arizona Representative Paul Gosar for posting an animated video depicting the murder of a fellow member and a threat against President Joe Biden to his official social media account.
By a margin of 223 in favour to 207 against, members approved a resolution of censure against Mr Gosar, making him the 25th House member in US history to face such a sanction. He was also stripped of his seats on the House Oversight and Energy and Natural Resources committees.
He stood implacably in the well of the House as Speaker Nancy Pelosi read the resolution, flanked by a group of GOP representatives which included Florida’s Matt Gaetz and Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was also stripped of her committee assignments earlier this year.
As Ms Pelosi spoke, Ms Greene tried to interject with a question about California Representative Eric Swalwell before being silenced with a sharp report of the speaker’s gavel.
Democrats introduced the censure resolution against Mr Gosar last week after it became known that he had used an official House social media account to post an animated video depicting him killing New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a pair of swords before threatening President Biden with the same weapons.
In a statement issued on 9 November, the Arizona Republican said he does not “espouse violence” towards any of his colleagues or Mr Biden, and claimed the video was meant to depict the coming floor debate over Mr Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. He called the video — which was crafted by his taxpayer-funded staff — a “fictional anime” that was “truly a symbolic portrayal of a fight over immigration policy”.
Speaking in his own defence from the House floor on Wednesday, Mr Gosar denied that the video was “dangerous or threatening”.
The firebrand Republican — whose associations with avowed white nationalists and racist rhetoric have led his own siblings to oppose his re-election — chose to be defiant rather than apologise or express any remorse.
“If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person attempted to be censured by this House, so be it,” he said.
One of his targets, Ms Ocasio-Cortez, condemned GOP members for their refusal to condemn Mr Gosar and their characterisation of Democrats’ push to censure him as unprecedented.
“What I believe is unprecedented is for a member of House leadership of either party to be unable to condemn incitement of violence against a member of this body,” she said. “It is a sad day in which a member who leads a political party in the United States of America cannot bring themselves to say that issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong”.
“Does anybody in this chamber find this behaviour acceptable? Would you allow that in your home?” Ms Ocasio-Cortez asked.
Mr Gosar is the first House member to face censure since 2010, when 333 House members voted to censure New York Democrat Charles Rangel for failing to pay taxes on income from a foreign property he owned while serving as chairman of the tax law-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
While the allegations against Mr Rangel, a senior Democrat who was then the dean of New York’s congressional delegation, stemmed from financial improprieties and resulted in 170 Democrats and 163 Republicans voting to censure him, only two Republicans — Reps Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — joined 221 Democrats to sanction the Arizona Republican over the video depicting the violent death of one of their colleagues. Another GOP member, Rep David Joyce of Ohio, voted “present” on the resolution.
Ms Cheney and Ms Kinzinger were two of the 11 Republicans who voted to remove another GOP member, Rep Marjorie Taylor-Greene, from committee assignments earlier this year, but in what is a sign of the increasingly toxic environment that faces Republicans who buck their own party on any matter, none of the other nine who voted with Democrats in February did so this time.
As the House began debate on whether to censure Mr Gosar on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called his conduct “extremely disturbing”.
Speaking from the House floor, Ms Pelosi said the video amounted to a “death threat” against Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Mr Biden. She added that the House “cannot have members joking about murdering each other or threatening the president of the United States”.
“When a member uses his or her national platform to encourage violence, tragically, people listen to them,” Ms Pelosi said.
Continuing, she called Mr Gosar’s conduct “both a danger to our elected officials and an insult to the institution of the House and Representatives,” implying that he was tacitly encouraging the sorts of violent acts against members that were threatened by the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on 6 January.
In response, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy launched into a rambling tirade in which the California Republican called the censure resolution an “unprecedented” action that was “about control,” and listed a litany of allegedly equivalent transgressions by Democratic House members, none of which included a threat of violence — implied or otherwise — against a specific member of Congress, that he claimed would be worthy of censure if Mr Gosar is censured.
In particular, he singled out a trio of Black House members — Reps Maxine Waters, Ilhan Omar, and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries — for comments they made about confronting Trump administration officials, Israel, and the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial, respectively, and claimed that the censure resolution against Mr Gosar was an example of “rules for thee but not for me” on the part of Democrats.
While Mr McCarthy and other Republicans railed against the hurried manner in which the censure against Mr Gosar was brought to the floor, with some suggesting that “due process” would have required the accusations against him to be investigated by the House Ethics Committee, Ethics Committee Chair Ted Deutch said the nature of the violent video warranted fast action.
“When a fellow member of Congress has been threatened with violence. the House cannot wait indefinitely for Republican leadership to find its collective conscience and condemn the threat,” he said. “Nothing in our rules requires the House to wait”.
Mr Deutch added that there was a “clear and present need” for the resolution because it will also remove Mr Gosar from the House Oversight Committee, of which Ms Ocasio-Cortez is also a member.
Mr Gosar, a former dentist who is serving his fifth term representing a district which stretches from the outskirts of Phoenix to the rural northwestern reaches of the Grand Canyon State, listened to the debate out of the chamber television cameras’ view as members prepared to take procedural votes on whether to consider the censure resolution, taking in the debate from a seat along the back wall of the chamber, his expression hidden by a mask.
He later moved to a seat three rows from the back on the GOP side of the hall, except for a few minutes when he rose to speak in his own defence.
A short time after Mr Gosar spoke, , California Representative Jackie Speier — the sponsor of the resolution against him — noted his recalcitrance, and accused him of specifically targeting Ms Ocasio-Cortez because she is a woman.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to glean that this is gender-coded language,” said Ms Speier, who is no stranger to violence herself, having survived multiple gunshot wounds suffered during the 1978 Jonestown Massacre as an aide to the late Rep Leo Ryan.
“Twenty-three members of the House … have been censured for actions including insulting the speaker or using unparliamentary language. Certainly conduct by a member depicting murdering another member of the House deserves censure,” she continued, adding that she would introduce the same resolution if a Democrat committed the same offence as Mr Gosar.
Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, noted that one of the counterexamples offered by Mr McCarthy in Mr Gosar’s defence was a “non-analogous action”.
“Why did he do that? Because there is no analogous event to this one in the 40-plus years that I have served here. There has never been a case like this,” he said.
“This is about … a member … threatening and showing the killing of a member of this House,” Mr Hoyer continued. He then directed a question to his colleagues on the Republican side of aisle: “Can’t that appall you? Even that act? Do you have no shame?”
“No one, Democrat or Republican, ought to be allowed to engage in the promotion of violence against a fellow member … because we know with the glorification and promotion of violence … piercing tweets become sharp knives, words bring out firearms, and cartoon killing begets real-life bloodshed,” he said.