Representative Paul Gosar spoke at a conference held by a prominent white nationalist and Holocaust denier whom he has continued to associate with. He has repeatedly defended those who stormed the Capitol and actively worked with an organizer of the January 6 rally preceding the riot to overturn the results of the 2020 election. And on Wednesday, he finally faced consequences. By a vote of 223 to 207 with one member voting “present,” the Republican from Arizona was censured by the House of Representatives and stripped of his committee assignments. It wasn’t for any of those actions, though. It was because Gosar posted a cartoon on Twitter.
It wasn’t just any cartoon, of course. It was an edited anime clip, posted to his official Twitter account, that depicted Gosar murdering his colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and violently attacking President Joe Biden. For Democrats, that demarcated a clear, bright line, a simple rule that all members could easily follow in the future: Don’t threaten the lives of your colleagues.
“If you threaten the life of another member of Congress, if you threaten direct violence, then you don’t deserve to be on a committee,” said Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern, adding that the standard is a “very low bar.” All of Gosar’s gallivanting with white nationalists was immaterial, according to Democrats. “Once you bring more context into it, you create more trouble for the institution,” said Dean Phillips of Minnesota.
But context still matters. Again and again, Democrats speaking in support of the resolution of censure brought up January 6. In a chamber that members still need to go through metal detectors to access, the specter of that attack and of the increase in political violence in the United States loomed large as the House debated what would be the 24th censure of a member in its history.
Republicans expressed their opposition in two ways. One was to condemn Gosar but express concern that the punishment did not fit the crime and that the process was flawed. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota said in his floor remarks that the cartoon was “dumb, silly, stupid, and mean-spirited, but it was not an incitement to violence.” Don Bacon of Nebraska thought kicking Gosar off his committees “was a bad precedent … it hurts the institution.” Bacon said in an interview that he “would have been apt” to support a simple resolution of censure without the additional step of stripping Gosar of his assignments on the Oversight and Natural Resources committees.
Indeed, there was little precedent for the whole House voting to strip a member of their committee assignments. Traditionally, that has been the prerogative of each party’s leader. That changed in February when Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was removed from her committee assignments for a variety of offensive comments she made before taking office, which included endorsing the execution of Nancy Pelosi as well as embracing an array of bizarre conspiracy theories that infamously included her speculations about space lasers causing forest fires.
But not all Republicans were as concerned with procedure. A number of them spoke on the floor to condemn Democrats for statements they found problematic, peaking with Lauren Boebert of Colorado going on a diatribe about Ilhan Omar, whom she called a member of the “Jihad Squad.” Others defended Gosar outright. Andy Biggs of Arizona cited Gosar’s time in Japan to note that the anime video was artistic free expression. Clay Higgins of Louisiana praised Gosar as “my brother.”
Gosar himself did not apologize and made clear that he believed there was nothing for him to apologize for. Instead, he described the video as “an anime that speaks to young voters who are too often overlooked” and compared himself to Alexander Hamilton, who faced a failed resolution of censure in the 18th century. In contrast, Democrats were more concerned that he aspired to be Aaron Burr.
Once the vote began, Gosar awaited his fate in the back of the chamber. He put his arm around Greene’s shoulder and then the two shared a group hug with Darrell Issa of California as members cast their votes. Eventually, Gosar stood behind the back rail of the House chamber, arms slung over it as the seconds ticked down.
Once the vote was gaveled down, with all Democrats and two Republicans voting to censure him, the gangly Arizonan — whom Ocasio-Cortez derided as “a collection of wet toothpicks” on Twitter — loped forward to receive his punishment. Being censured not only involves the passage of a resolution but requires the punished member to stand in the well of the House while the resolution is read. Gosar emerged, flanked by nearly 20 members of the Freedom Caucus, including Greene and Matt Gaetz of Florida, who stood with him in solidarity. Speaker Pelosi took the chair and read the resolution before a brief silence. “Is that it?” came a shout from the Republican side of the chamber. It was, then Greene shouted, “What about Eric Swalwell?”
In her floor remarks before the vote, Ocasio-Cortez tried to zoom out from the threat against her to make the argument that what happens in Congress is indeed consequential. “Our work matters,” she said, insisting “there is meaning in our service” as she condemned what she saw a deep vein of nihilism in the chamber and “the illusion that this was just a joke — that what we say or what we do does not matter so long as we claim a lack of meaning.”
In contrast, Gosar returned to his office afterward, retweeted the offending clip, and issued a statement in which he compared being sanctioned for a tweeted video depicting himself murdering a colleague to the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo in France when Islamist terrorists murdered 12 people at the satirical newspaper’s offices. After all, in his view, both were acts of censorship against a cartoon.