Politics

House is Set to Censure Paul Gosar for Violent Video

WASHINGTON — House Democrats will move on Wednesday to censure Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, and strip him of committee assignments for posting an animated video depicting him killing a Democratic member of Congress and assaulting President Biden.

The vote to censure, the most severe punishment the House of Representatives can mete out short of expulsion, comes a week after Mr. Gosar used his official social media accounts to circulate the video clip, borrowed from a popular anime program. The video was altered to show a figure with Mr. Gosar’s face slashing the neck of another figure bearing the face of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and swinging swords at Mr. Biden.

Democrats will also move to oust Mr. Gosar from his seats on the House Oversight and Natural Resources Committees, shutting him out of any opportunity to influence legislation or oversight in Congress.

The censure would be the first since the chamber took the same action in 2010 against Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, who was found guilty of tax evasion and other ethical violations after a monthslong investigation by the Ethics Committee.

But there was one major difference: that action was taken by a Democratic House against a prominent and powerful Democratic member. Mr. Gosar is a backbench member of the minority party, and Republicans have refused to publicly condemn his conduct or penalize him in any way.

While a censure is one of the harshest punishments the House can deliver, it is a largely symbolic gesture meant to publicly disgrace the lawmaker who is named. It requires a simple majority vote, and for the member in question to stand on the House floor before his peers to receive a verbal rebuke and recitation of his transgression.

House leaders have historically shied away from using the punishment to discipline lawmakers; fewer than two dozen members have been censured since the early 19th century.

But the move to censure Mr. Gosar reflects deep-seated outrage among Democrats at what they regard as an incitement to violence against a political foe, coming at a time when mainstream Republicans have grown increasingly tolerant of menacing statements and their core supporters appear primed to act on such language, as some did during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

“Is there no decorum around here anymore? Is there no decency?” asked Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. “Threats against members of Congress are on the rise. We cannot sit back and accept actions like this as if they are the new normal.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday that Mr. Gosar’s conduct constituted “an emergency” that must be addressed by the House.

Mr. Gosar, who has long elevated conspiracies and other bizarre content from the far-right reaches of the internet, has not apologized for posting the video, instead trying to play down its significance. He claimed in a statement that it was nothing more than a “symbolic portrayal of a fight over immigration policy” and said he would not “espouse violence or harm toward any member of Congress.” He has privately blamed aides for posting it.

“It is a symbolic cartoon,” Mr. Gosar said in a statement. “It is not real life.”

In practice, Mr. Gosar may be more affected by the move to strip him of his committee assignments — especially his post on the Natural Resources panel, a crucial perch for an Arizona lawmaker.

Still, after Democrats moved to unilaterally strip Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, of her committee assignments for social media posts made before her election in which she endorsed violence against Democrats in Congress, hard-right voters rallied to her side and she posted record fund-raising numbers.

Some Republicans have warned that when they are in the majority — which could come as soon as 2023 — they will not hesitate to take advantage of the precedents set by Democrats in wielding their power against individual members of the minority party.

“In future years, this precedent may be used to give the majority veto power over the minority’s committee assignments,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “That’s a dangerous, dark road for the institution to go down.”

In earlier days of the republic, censure was far more common, and its use often reflected the era. The first censure, in 1842, landed on Representative William Stanbery for insulting the speaker.

Then came the run-up to and prosecution of the Civil War: Joshua Giddings was censured in 1842 for presenting a series of antislavery resolutions that violated a House gag rule against even discussing slavery; Laurence M. Keitt, in 1856, for assisting the infamous caning of an abolitionist senator by a pro-slavery House member; then two members in 1864 for encouraging and supporting the Confederacy.

Between 1866 and 1875, 11 members were censured for actual violence — Lovell H. Rouseau for assaulting Representative Josiah Grinnell with a cane — corruption (such as selling military academy appointments) and “unparliamentary language.”

Censure fell out of favor and the bar was raised considerably during the 20th century. In 1978, Representative Charles H. Diggs was censured after he was convicted on 11 counts of mail fraud and 18 counts of false statements in a payroll fraud investigation.

On one day in 1983, Representatives Gerry E. Studds and Daniel B. Crane were both censured for having sex with 17-year-old congressional pages, criminal offenses that would likely warrant a far more dramatic response today than a public shaming on the House floor.

The censure in 2010 of Mr. Rangel, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, came after he had been found by the Ethics panel to have committed 11 violations.

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