House censures Gosar, removes him from committees

By Emma Dumain, George Cahlink | 11/18/2021 06:34 AM EST

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) at the Capitol. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Rep. Paul Gosar has become the 24th member of the House of Representatives to be censured by his colleagues and the second lawmaker this Congress to lose his committee assignments.

The House voted 223-207 yesterday to issue a formal rebuke against the Arizona Republican for using official resources to create and post an animated video depicting the killing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and violence against President Biden.

Just two Republicans — Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — joined 221 Democrats in voting “yes.” Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) voted “present.”

The censure resolution, H. Res. 789, also stripped Gosar of his seats on the Natural Resources and Oversight & Reform committees.

The loss of his slot on the Natural Resources panel, where he served as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, is a particular blow to Gosar.

The five-term lawmaker has staked his policy credentials in his work on critical minerals, energy extraction and water infrastructure on public lands, and his district and state depend on the panel’s legislative outcomes.

It remains to be seen how Gosar will be able to campaign for reelection without this assignment, though in a defiant floor speech yesterday he promised he would not be silenced.

“The American people deserve to have their voices heard in Congress,” Gosar said. “No matter how much the left tries to quiet me, I will continue to speak out against amnesty for illegal aliens, defend the rule of law and advance the ‘America First’ agenda.”

While stopping short of issuing an apology for the video, Gosar sought to receive credit for taking the film offline out of “compassion” for those offended. He also doubled down on his defense that the video was meant to depict a metaphorical “policy battle” against “illegal immigration” and Biden’s “open borders” platform, using the medium of anime to draw in young people.

“I do not espouse violence towards anyone,” Gosar said. “I never have.”

Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), the vice ranking member of the Natural Resources oversight panel, could be tapped to replace Gosar in the senior role.

Emotional debate

Democrats were unsparing in their criticism of Gosar during yesterday’s floor debate on the censure measure, accusing him of using taxpayer dollars to promote violence against elected officials at a time when domestic terrorism is on the rise and direct threats against members of Congress are rampant.

“Words spoken by elected officials weigh a ton,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “People hear them very differently.”

Ocasio-Cortez gave an impassioned plea for colleagues to acknowledge “a larger trend of racist misogyny” reflected in the video.

“Does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable?” she asked. “Would you allow depictions of violence against women, against colleagues — would you allow that in your home? Do you think this should happen on a school board? In a city council? In a church? And if it’s not acceptable there, why should it be accepted here?”

Few Republicans expressly defended Gosar yesterday, with the exceptions of Rep. Jim Baird (R-Ind.), who referred to him as “honorable,” and Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), who called him his “brother.”

Some, like Reps. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) and Tom Rice (R-S.C.), called the video “stupid” and “childish,” but “not a threat.”

Earlier in day, when asked whether he was disappointed Gosar would be taken off his committee, House Natural Resources ranking member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) told E&E News simply that while “I don’t approve of what he did with the video … the question that comes out is, what’s the punishment for that? And I think the Democrats need to be careful, because what they see as justice today will be the standards they’re judged by in the future.”

But all Republican members who rose to speak yesterday were in agreement on the same talking point: that their colleague was being used as a sacrificial lamb and accused Democrats of exercising a “power grab” and hypocrisy.

“Rules for thee but not for me,” House Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) taunted Democrats, accusing them of applying a different set of standards for Republicans than for their own who have also used incendiary rhetoric.

McCarthy warned Democrats will see their own members stripped of committee seats if the GOP retakes the majority in 2022 in retaliation.

‘Where does this stop?’

Both Gosar and Ocasio-Cortez were in the chamber for much of the debate and the vote.

Gosar look unfazed as he huddled with a handful of allies, among them Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who had her committee assignments rescinded in February, alongside Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), in the rear of the chamber.

Ocasio-Cortez stood near the front of the chamber shaking hands and exchanging hugs with a slew of Democrats who gave speeches condemning Gosar’s alleged attack on her.

The two lawmakers never directly crossed paths in the chamber.

Gosar, who wore an American flag mask during the debate, removed his mask as he came forward to be formally censured in the well of the House by Pelosi. The reading of the resolution lasted only 30 seconds and was a relatively quiet climax to the proceeding hours of fiery speeches and accusations hurled across the aisle.

About a dozen conservatives stood with Gosar as the censure was read and there was a brief silence as it ended. At that point Greene yelled out a vague accusation at a Democratic lawmaker before the House was quickly gaveled back to order.

Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who was one of 11 Republicans who voted to kick Greene off committees after she circulated violent and hateful conspiracy theories, said he would have supported a censure of Gosar, too, had it not also removed him from committees. Had it been restricted to a formal rebuke, Upton continued, other GOP members would have likely joined him in support.

“I think this is just a stretch too far,” said Upton, noting Greene had never fully apologized for her remarks but Gosar had to his GOP colleagues. “You got other members, I won’t mention their names, on both sides of the aisle who say outrageous things.”

He added that the stripping of committee assignments will only ratchet up partisan tensions and a culture of political retribution on Capitol Hill, especially if Republicans win back the House in next year’s midterms.

“Where does this stop?” he asked.