WASHINGTON – Before the House votes Wednesday to censor Representative Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, and fire him from its committees, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made a veiled threat that Democrats’ seats may not be secure if his party took control next year.
The clash is the latest escalation in political warfare as far-right lawmakers push the boundaries of acceptable discourse and Democrats insist their behavior cannot go unpunished.
In 2019, Republicans acted alone to kick Representative Steve King, R-Iowa, from his committees for speaking positively about white supremacy. But since then, they have refused to act against the violent or racist rhetoric of other members who aligned with former President Donald Trump. Democrats took matters into their own hands by excluding Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., From their committees.
Gosar was fired from the committee after posting an anime video of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., and wielding swords at President Joe Biden.
Now Republicans are citing remarks from Democrats that are different but have sparked outrage from their constituents as reasons for future retaliation if they take control of the House next fall.
McCarthy referred to comments by Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Saying US support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” a remark she apologized for after coming under bipartisan criticism. that she was pushing anti-Semitic tropes. He also referred to a tweet in which Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., said: “Lock up Kyle Rittenhouse and throw out the key.” And he mentioned reports that Representative Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., Was targeted by a suspected Chinese spy, who Swalwell and intelligence officials say did not compromise any sensitive information.
McCarthy argued that the precedent set by President Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. – allowing members of the minority to be removed from committees by majority votes – could subject Democrats to similar sanctions in a House led by Republicans. All of them occupy highly sought-after committee positions: Swalwell on Intelligence, Omar on Foreign Affairs and Jeffries on Judiciary.
“What they started cannot easily be undone. Their actions today and in the past have forever changed the way House works,” McCarthy said on the House floor. “And furthermore, it means that according to the Pelosi precedent, all of the members I mentioned previously will need majority approval to maintain these positions in the future.
“This body has suffered a lot. And the new standard will continue to be applied in the future,” he said, without defending or condemning Gosar.
Gosar’s censure resolution was passed by 223-207, with only two Republicans voting with Democrats: Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
Gosar, who did not apologize, said he removed the video because it was misunderstood.
McCarthy declined Thursday to specify which Democrats could get the ax of committees if he became president.
“It’s not about threats. But it’s about holding people to account,” he told reporters.
Democrats say they are happy to be held to their own standards and to strip their party members of committee assignments if they describe acts of violence against colleagues.
“Be clear: if a Democrat did the same thing, I would bring forward the same resolution,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., The author of the resolution.
Pelosi dismissed questions about the potential for retaliation against Democrats over committee seats, telling reporters Thursday she would not base her decisions on what Republicans might do in the “unlikely event that they win the Congress”.
“We would not give up our responsibilities for fear of something they might do in the future,” she said.
Many Republicans have said they are not defending Gosar or his video, but oppose the punishment.
“Going down the road of mutual withdrawal from committees – where is it going to end? When Republicans are back in the majority, where is it going to end?” said Representative Chip Roy, R-Texas, who said he objected to remarks Ocasio-Cortez made about his ex-boss, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Doug Heye, a former Republican House leadership adviser, said he had “no doubt” that a future GOP majority would seek to get Democrats off committees for extreme language.
“It’s a statement of the obvious,” he said. “On Capitol Hill, precedents matter.”
Heye said he supported Gosar’s censorship but Democrats should have opted for “clean” censorship that did not target his committee assignments. Although Democrats say it was a punishment for portraying violence against a colleague – and not just obnoxious rhetoric – Heye said a future Republican majority might interpret and apply the standard differently.
“This is a question that will come from within the party,” he said. “Unfortunately, in Washington, the loudest voices can be emboldened.”
McCarthy said under a hypothetical Republican majority, Gosar and Greene would sit on House committees.
“They will have committees,” he told reporters. “They can have other committee missions. They can have better committee missions.”