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 majority of Republicans opposed the action 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 to207 with only two Republicans, Representatives Liz Cheney from Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger from Illinois, joining Democrats for favor. One other Republican, Representative David Joyce of Ohio, voted “present.”
The incendiary and emotional debate that preceded it revealed the divisions of the moment. Democrats are now urging them to speak out against vicious threats to their safety and imagery that could lead to violence like the Jan. 6 riot at 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 voiced their grievances to their base and claimed that their rights as a political minority were being violated by an 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 read that rebuke herself, which was unanimously approved by 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. His video shows Mr. Gosar cutting off Ms. Ocasio Cortez’s neck amid images of violence against migrants and refugees.
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 was seen in the well of House to receive his censure. He was accompanied by a group of strident conservatives. He did not speak like Mr. Rangel 11 years back, but he did accept handshakes and well wishes by the Republicans who rallied behind.
During the debate, Republican lawmakers rose to support Mr. Gosar. They complained about a debasement by Ms. Plosi of the power of censure. They argued that this was part of two impeachments of a Republican President, and the rejection of Republicans selected 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 listed a long list potential targets, including Representatives Eric Swalwell in California, Ilhan Ozmar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib from Michigan.
“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 a history. In 1997, Speaker Newt Gingrich was criticized by the Democrats for ethical violations. This was after Jim Wright, their speaker, was hacked to death in 1989.
The video depicts violence against elected Democrats, but it’s not the only one. 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.
This is not unusual for Mr. Gosar. He has been spreading conspiracy theories and other strange content from the far-right corners of the internet for years. He has been a common cause with white nationalists and members of Congress who spoke at the America First 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. Hours after he was censured, Mr. Gosar retweeted a Twitter post with his original video that praised it as “really well done.”
During the debate, Mr. Gosar was not criticized by any Republicans. However, Ms. Cheney stood by 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.”
Both she and Mr. Kinzinger broke sharply with their party starting Jan. 6. They have often criticized Republican leaders for failing violence and misinformation to condemn. 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.
Most Republicans disagreed and claimed that posting a video, later removed, did not relate to recent offenses that have led the government to censure such as sexual misconduct with teenagers, tax fraud, and bribery.
Censure was more common in the early days of the republic and often reflected the time. In 1832, Representative William Stanbery was censured 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 was not popular and the bar for it was significantly raised in the 20th century. After being convicted on 11 counts mail fraud and 18 false statements in a payroll scam investigation, Charles C. Diggs received his censure in 1978. In 1983, two Representatives Gerry E. Studds, and Daniel B. Crane, were censured for having sex in a congressional page with 17-year olds. This is a criminal offense that would likely warrant a far more severe response today.
After being found guilty of 11 violations by the Ethics Committee, Rangel was censured in 2010.
Mr. Gosar is not the same age as Mr. Rangel, nor has he had the same career. He has a lot of influence within far-right circles in the country. On Wednesday, he insisted that he did not intend to incite violence against any member of Congress. He was referring to the Biden administration’s immigration policies and its supporters. He also indicated that he would take 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 and rejected a number of censure resolutions that Mr. Hamilton received in 1793, when Hamilton was secretary to the Treasury.
Emily CochraneContributed reporting
Source: NY Times