Witcover: Near party-line censure of Republican zealot reveals new low for House
WASHINGTON — For the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. House of Representatives blew the whistle one of its members, voting narrowly to censure Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona.
Gosar, a darling of the alt-right, had tweeted an anime-style video depicting a cartoon version of himself violently attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and President Joe Biden.
By a vote of 223 to 207 — with only a handful of Republicans joining the Democrats — the House slapped Gosar’s wrist for the gestures. The censure will merely cost him his seat on some legislative committees — an inside-baseball rebuke if ever there was one.
Nevertheless, the imbroglio demonstrated the depth to which common decorum has sunk at the Capitol since the January 6 mob insurrection, now under scrutiny by a select House committee there.
Gosar’s 90-second video was a mashup of cartoon sequences lifted apparently from an animated Japanese feature, interspersed with video scenes of migrants trying to cross the border, as well as military images. During the animated sequence, Gosar’s face is superimposed on a cartoon character that knifes another character in the neck, the latter bearing the superimposed face of Ocasio-Cortez. The Gosar character then lunges at a Biden character, slashing at it with a pair of swords.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately denounced Gosar’s action. “Disguising death threats against a member of Congress and a president of the United States in an animated video does not make those death threats any less real or less serious,” she said.
House Democrats have often called out Gosar as a chronic dispenser of right-wing invective and conspiracy theory, as well as for being far too cozy with the white supremacists who burst onto the scene at the Charlottesville, Virginia rally of 2017.
Before the vote on his censure, Gosar defiantly compared himself to Alexander Hamilton, “the first person to be attempted to be censured by this House.” (That attempt failed.) As his own censure was being read on the House floor, about a dozen fellow Republicans stood with him in support.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowed to repay the deed against House Democrats in the event his party takes majority control in next year’s midterm elections.
Ocasio-Cortez, already the target of much right-wing ire, asked: “What is so hard about saying this is wrong?” She chided Republicans, belittling “the illusion that this was just a joke, that what we say and what we do does not matter so long as we claim a lack of meaning.”
One of the Democratic leaders of the pushback against the vicious video, Rep. Jackie Speier of California, recalled the 2011 shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, as well as her own survival of the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana carried out by the Jim Jones cult.
“I know what violence can do,” she tweeted. “My friend Congressman Leo Ryan was shot 45 times and killed in cold blood. My friend Gabby Giffords thankfully survived her shooting. This is not a game. We must censure Rep. Gosar.”
So it was done, but the closeness of the vote, and its clear partisan nature, leaves much to be desired from the world’s supposedly greatest deliberative body.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.