November 17, 2021

Photo: Anna Moneymaker

November 17, 2021 (Wednesday)

Today the House of Representatives voted to censure (not censor) Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and to strip him of his committee assignments. The vote was 223 to 207, with 1 representative, David Joyce (R-OH), voting “present.” Three other representatives—Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), Scott Perry (R-PA), and Morgan Griffith (R-VA)—did not vote. Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) joined Democrats to vote in favor of the resolution censuring Gosar.

At stake was what to do about the fact that Gosar posted on his official Twitter account an anime video that showed a character with his face photoshopped onto it killing a character wearing the face of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The “Gosar” character also slashed with swords at a character wearing the face of President Joe Biden.

Democrats have been outraged at the video, while Republicans have largely kept mum about it, focusing instead on attacking the Republicans who voted with the Democrats to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

Today, Democrats tried to recall their Republican colleagues to a common agreement on the principle that Congress should not be an arena of violence. “Threatening and showing the killing of a member of this House,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said to the Republicans. “Can't that appall you? Even that act? Do you have no shame?” 

Indeed, censuring Gosar should have been an easy vote for Republicans. He is a problematic colleague: he has embraced white nationalist and neo-Nazi culture, and six of his nine siblings have cut ads urging voters not to support him. (He retorted that they are “leftists” of whom “Stalin would be proud.”) One of his brothers said on television today: "My brother is unhinged. He needs to be more than censured. He needs to be expelled. And if it is determined that criminal charges need to be filed, then they need to be filed."

But only Kinzinger and Cheney were willing to call out Gosar’s behavior, while four others avoided the vote. “This is not an issue about party,” Cheney told reporters. Gosar’s post was “completely unacceptable.” “I think that it’s really important for us to be very clear that violence has no place in our political discourse,” she said.

The rest of the House Republicans backed Gosar, attacking Democrats—sometimes screaming at them—as totalitarians, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) calling the resolution “an abuse of power.” (In reality, censure is a tool the House has used throughout our history.) Gosar never apologized for the video showing him killing the Democratic representative, although many of his colleagues talked as if he did. 

As many people have pointed out, sharing an image of yourself killing a colleague would get you fired from virtually any job.

This is an important moment. It appears that all but two Republican lawmakers are willing to embrace violence against Democrats if it will lead to political power. 

There is a subtle difference between their willingness to defend the violence of the January 6 insurrectionists, and today’s stance. When Republicans have defended the insurrectionists, they did so with the argument—false though it was—that the rioters simply wanted to defend the country from a stolen election. Today there was no pretense of an excuse for Gosar’s violent fantasy; it was defended as normal. 

The march toward Republicans’ open acceptance of violence has been underway since January 6, as leaders embraced the Big Lie that the Democrats stole the 2020 election, and then as leaders have stood against mask and vaccine mandates as tyranny. Those lies have led to a logical outcome: their supporters believe that in order to defend the nation, they should fight back against those they have been told are destroying the country. 

When Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, an organization devoted to promoting right-wing values on campuses, spoke in Idaho last month, the audience applauded when a man asked when he could start killing Democrats. “When do we get to use the guns?” the man said. “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” Kirk denounced the question not on principle, but because he said it would play into Democratic hands. He agreed that, as he said, “We are living under fascism.” 

The vigilantism of the current Republican Party is evidence that its leaders know they cannot win free and fair elections—if they could, there would be no need for terrorizing opponents—so they are working to rig the system. In Idaho, Kirk went on to encourage his audience to retake control of the country by using their power in the states.

They can do so through measures like Texas’s S.B. 8, the so-called “heartbeat bill” prohibiting women from exercising their constitutional right to abortion, and calling on individuals within the community to enforce that law. 

And they can also do so by taking control of state election procedures. Since the Democrats won control of the House and Senate and the White House in November 2020, Republicans have used their power in Republican-dominated states to pass laws that will suppress Democratic votes and transfer control of the counting of election results from non-partisan officials to partisans, along with the right to exclude votes they claim are “fraudulent.” Had such measures been in place in 2020, Trump would currently be in the White House.

They are also gerrymandering their states to cut Democrats out of representation. So, for example, according to Ari Berman, who studies voting rights, Georgia has written new congressional maps that would give Republicans 64% of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in a state Biden won with 49.5% of the vote. In the Georgia state senate, Republicans would take 59% of seats. 

In Wisconsin the legislature passed a map that would give Republicans 75% of U.S. House seats and 60% of legislative seats in a state Biden won. The Ohio senate has passed a map giving Republicans 80% of seats in state Trump won with 53% of the vote. In North Carolina, which is 40% non-white and evenly split politically, the Republican legislature passed redistricting maps giving Republicans 71–78% of U.S. House seats.  

Republicans have made it clear that they are comfortable with violence, and they are rigging elections to gain power. Unless Congress chooses to protect our votes with the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Republican performance in the House today will become our norm. 

Part of the ceremony of censure is that the censured representative stands in the House well as the censure is read. Gosar was joined in the well today by a group of Republicans, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) read the censure. 

Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), were sitting in the front row.

Immediately following his censure, Gosar retweeted the video.