Despite the GOP’s attempts to shrug off Rep. Paul Gosar’s problematic anime post, House Democrats literally put the Arizona Republican front and center on Wednesday, casting him to the well of the House floor for a formal reprimand and revoking his committee assignments.
By a vote of 223-207-1, every Democrat and two Republicans voted to censure Gosar and strip him of committees over a cartoon video he tweeted last week that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and attacking President Joe Biden with swords.
That video, of course, wasn’t the first time Gosar had crossed the line of unfit behavior. During his decade on Capitol Hill, Gosar has repeatedly positioned himself on the far-right edge of his caucus, including by associating with white supremacists and right-wing militia groups.
“This video had nothing to do with harming anybody… it’s an anime, we were trying to reach out to newer generation that likes these anime, these cartoons fabricated in Japanese likeness,” Gosar insisted on The Stew Peters Show Tuesday night. On the House floor Wednesday, he suggested the video was merely about immigration policy.
But the video was the tipping point for House Democrats, who often bash Republican decorum but seldom do anything about it—particularly anything as forceful as censuring or removing a member from his or her committees.
While Republican Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) voted with all present Democrats to adopt the resolution—Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) voted present, he said, to preserve his impartiality if the matter came before the Ethics Committee—the issue otherwise fell along party lines. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) voted no, despite pressure from other members of leadership for him to hold his conference member accountable.
Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday issued a scathing review of McCarthy’s handling of Gosar and other Republicans who’ve been part of less-than-cordial interactions with the congresswoman.
“I want to be very clear: Rep. McCarthy is not skittish. He is encouraging of this behavior,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez has often been the target of unseemly GOP attacks, but there have rarely been formal consequences.
In July 2020, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) called her a “fucking bitch” as he departed a House vote. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) reportedly shouted at Ocasio-Cortez throughout Capitol halls in May. And beyond her fellow members, Ocasio-Cortez’s team says they’re regularly concerned for her safety, fielding death threats from right-wing nutjobs far too often.
Ocasio-Cortez said interactions like Gosar’s post and others have forced her to pay for more security than an average member.
“It's not just about me. This is that if any member of Congress’ life is threatened, they have to fundraise for their own safety. I mean, it's ludicrous,” she said.
In her remarks on the House floor, she further decried McCarthy's unwillingness to punish Gosar and warned that his tweet and the violence it advocated had an impact on the country—whether or not he chose to admit it.
“It is a sad day in which a member who leads a political party in the USA cannot bring themselves to say that issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong,” Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor Wednesday. “What is so hard about saying that this is wrong?"
The New York congresswoman said it comes down to the behavior Americans should expect from members of Congress.
“There is meaning in our service… It is about a core recognition of human dignity and value and worth,” she said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday told reporters she believes the House had to act urgently on the censure vote, calling the matter “an emergency” and “workplace harassment.”
She called it "outrageous on the part of the Republican leadership not to act on this."
As Democrats and Republicans debated the resolution to censure Gosar, the open hostility between the parties was on full display. While Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) attempted to discuss what Democrats would have done if a member of their party behaved the same as Gosar, Republicans shouted, “Nothing.” After Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) gave a speech calling Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) a member of a “Jihad Squad” and accusing Democrats of “sleeping with the enemy,” multiple members gave her fist bumps.
“Democrat policies are so pathetic and have done so poorly that the left has nothing else to do but troll the internet looking for ways to get offended,” Boebert added, before launching into a rant of unsubstantiated claims meant to degrade Democratic members.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) insisted Democrats want “totalitarian control over every aspect of American life and their rule in the people’s House as if they were royalty.”
But Democrats were happy to win just this battle on Wednesday. As members cast their votes, several Democrats came over to speak to or hug Ocasio-Cortez, who stood near the front of the House chamber.
The vote to censure Gosar ordered him to stand in the well of the House chamber while a condemnation of his behavior was very briefly read aloud. Some Republicans gathered around him, with Greene by his side remarking, “What about [Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.)]... Sleeping with a Chinese spy.” Ocasio-Cortez was seated just steps to his left during the exchange.
Gosar served on the House Oversight Committee—of which Ocasio-Cortez is also a member—and the House Natural Resources Committee, but with the adoption of the resolution, he was removed immediately.
The House has not censured a member since 2010. In April, Democrats successfully fought off a censure vote against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she called on protestors to be “more confrontational” if former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found not guilty for the murder of George Floyd.
Gosar now joins Greene in the two-person, no-committees club after House Democrats led a similar vote against her in February. Greene’s past racist remarks embroiled her in controversy early in her House tenure, leading 11 House Republicans to join Democrats in voting to bench her from committee assignments.
But as Greene has shown over the past nine months, even a committee-less member can maintain a presence on the Hill. They can still cast floor votes on bills. They can still force painful, time-consuming procedural motions in the chamber. They can remain in caucuses. And they can keep on talking and tweeting.
That degree of power, coupled with a martyr persona among the far-right, could keep Gosar safe come re-election. Former President Donald Trump also continues to have a considerable influence on electoral prospects—and favors endorsing individuals that share his lack of filter.
McCarthy said in a speech just prior to the vote that removing Gosar from his committees would set "a new standard” for the measure. He warned that Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Waters, frequent targets of the Republican Party, would both be at risk of losing their committee assignments if the GOP takes back power in the House.
Omar brushed off the threat while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
“The what-about-ism is a distraction from the actual problem that they have in their caucus,” she said.
Zachary Petrizzo and Sam Brodey contributed to this report.