As we saw last week, Gosar's fantasy video showing him killing AOC and attacking Biden with two swords, has enraged House Democrats. On Friday several dozen introduced Jackie Speier's censure resolution. Now it's up to Pelosi and Hoyer to decide whether or not it gets voted on. There are already two conservative Republicans-- Liz Cheney (WY) and Adam Kinzinger (IL)-- who have said they intend to vote for it if Pelosi allows it onto the floor.
Later today Speier will meet with Pelosi who will, presumably, try to get her to soft-pedal the resolution. Pelosi prefers to bury the whole incident in a pointless and meaningless Ethics Committee "investigation." Speier and scores of other Democrats oppose that approach. Speier: "It is yet another example of inciting violence. And the more we normalize this, the more likely we're going to see something tragic happen. People need to recognize words matter. Conduct matters. And if you are going to threaten people, there’s going to be repercussions." There is? Not if Pelosi-- who turned 81 in March and has increasingly lost her edge but refuses to step down-- has the last word. She also killed a resolution by David Cicilline almost half a year ago after Gosar had said Justice Department efforts to prosecute participants in the attempted 1/6 Trump coup and sacking of the Capitol is "harassing peaceful patriots across the country."
While Pelosi has bottled up all the resolutions against the Republican insurrectionists-- including Marjorie Traitor Greene (Q-GA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Andrew Clyde (R-GA), Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Jody Hice (R-GA)-- Kinzinger told CNN that he doesn't "care if it’s a Republican or a Democrat, we cannot in this country, get to a point where using anime even, which is creepy in and of itself, but using anime or regular videos or deep fakes or even just tweeted threats against a sitting member of Congress can be acceptable. It is never acceptable. It can’t be acceptable."
The Associated Press reported that "In an interview, GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, who has emerged as a top Trump critic in her party, said Gosar should be censured 'for his continued indefensible activities.' And she blasted House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy for his silence on the matter. 'It’s a real symbol of his lack of strength, the lack of leadership in our conference right now, and the extent to which he and other leaders seem to have lost their moral compass,' said Cheney... 'In a moment where you’ve got an avowed white nationalist in Rep. Gosar who has posted a video advocating the killing of another member, the idea that our leader will not stand against that but that he’s somehow going after and allowing attacks against 13 members who are conducting themselves in a serious and substantive way is really outrageous.'"
The GOP’s reluctance to crack down on-- or even mildly criticize-- violent rhetoric in its own ranks is part of a broader pattern in which the party tries to minimize such behavior. Gosar removed the tweet aimed at Ocasio-Cortez, but the Arizona congressman and his digital director said those offended by his tweet should “relax.” Trump, meanwhile, has attempted to divert attention from the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol by saying that last year’s Election Day was the “real insurrection.”
There was no insurrection on Election Day. There was a free and fair election won by Biden.
While threats and violent political imagery are nothing new in American politics, they became increasingly normalized under Trump. The former president embraced violence as a political tactic from the earliest days of his 2016 campaign, egging on his supporters to rough up protesters who interrupted his rallies. At one point during a speech, he called on them to “knock the crap out of” potential disruptors, and even promised to pay their legal bills.
...In 2017, Trump tweeted a doctored World Wrestling Entertainment video that depicted him body-slamming and pummeling wrestling promoter Vince McMahon, whose face had been replaced by a CNN logo. The video quickly became the former president’s then most-shared post on the site.
And he spent months convincing his supporters the 2020 election had been stolen, culminating in the violent storming of the Capitol building in an effort to halt the certification of Biden’s win. In an interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl for an upcoming book, Trump further defended the rioters who had chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” as they stormed the building, saying they were “very angry” and that he believed his former vice president was “well-protected” as he fled for his life, according to a partial transcript published by Axios.
Trump “seems to have wanted to promote opponents as being intimidated by wielding violent rhetoric,” creating a culture, especially in the Republican Party, of “violent threats as being excused as offbeat humor,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, of the precedent Trump had established.
Nonetheless, he said that having a congressman threaten somebody, “whether it’s in a cartoon or words,” puts a target on her back.
“Knowing that AOC is facing serious death threats and then to turn it into a meme or a dark twisted fantasy joke is reprehensible. And it’s hard to imagine that somebody in 2021 would feel that that kind of behavior was acceptable in a civil society,” he said, calling for criminal prosecution. “We cannot go around and threaten people’s lives and call it humor.”
Former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered extensive brain damage during a 2011 assassination attempt, said threats against political figures “have no place in our democracy.”
“Not only do they threaten the personal safety of our public servants, their staff, and their families-- they undermine the very foundation of our democracy,” she said in a statement. “All leaders must decisively condemn violent rhetoric and threats in our politics, and recognize the danger to our democratic process posed by armed threats, harassment, and intimidation.”
Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, said it was time for the party to rein in the rhetoric.
“I do think GOP leadership has to step up and address issues of members who step out of line as it relates to misconduct or incendiary comments,” he said. “They should be very forceful to those who are bringing discredit to the institution.”
Ocasio-Cortez spokesperson Lauren Hitt declined to comment on the volume of threats against her, citing security advice.
Lilliana Hall Mason is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the upcoming book “Radical American Partisanship,” which examines Americans’ attitudes toward political violence. She said that, in general, around 10% to 20% of self-identified Democrats and Republicans tell researchers they support the use of violence for accomplishing political goals.
But their studies found those attitudes can be strongly influenced by messages they hear from political leaders. When politicians use pacifying rhetoric, she said, people from both parties respond by becoming less approving of violence. But when Democrats hear violent rhetoric from Republicans, and vice versa, it feeds into perceptions that the opposite party is more approving of violence than it really is, and encourages them to respond with the same.
“It seems that people respond to violence events by increasing their approval to violence,” she said of their findings. “Violence begets violence” in what she described as a “vicious cycle” that make using violent rhetoric “a really dangerous game.”
“It’s just so irresponsible,” she added.
Last April, McCarthy-- like Gosar, a white supremacist, but quieter about it-- tried to force a censure vote against Maxine Waters, when he objected to her saying "we’ve got to get more confrontational" about police brutality against people of color. McCarthy claimed Waters was inciting violence. What Waters said at the time, in response to a question about juries failing to hold police accountable for the murders of Derek Chauvin and Duante Wright was "We’ve got to stay on the street, and we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business."
Waters, a 15-term Californian, later said she had been referring to civil rights-era demonstrations, which used tactics of civil disobedience, and Democratic leaders stood behind her.
But McCarthy-- who this year declined to punish Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, who had previously endorsed killing Speaker Nancy Pelosi-- saw an opening to try to put politically vulnerable Democrats on the spot. He portrayed Waters’s remarks as condoning violence and effectively dared her colleagues to back her by putting the matter to a vote, a perilous proposition given that Democrats’ razor-thin margin of control in the House left almost no room for defections.
Still, Democrats held together. Pelosi, also of California, told reporters on Monday that Waters had no reason to apologize for her remarks, and she could be seen whipping votes on the House floor on Tuesday.
...After the measure’s defeat, Republicans lost no time in mounting the political attacks that it had been intended to feed. McCarthy issued a news release saying that Democrats had “decided to stand on the side of violence instead of the law.”
House Republicans’ campaign arm blasted out news releases to the districts of endangered Democrats claiming they had voted “for violence.”
In a tweet on Tuesday, McCarthy called Waters’s actions “beneath the dignity of this institution,” and said that “they raised the potential for violence, directed lawlessness, and may have interfered with a co-equal branch of government.”
His resolution cited at length comments made by Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over Chauvin’s case and who said on Monday in an unusual aside that Waters’ comments may have given the defense an opening to overturn the trial on appeal. Judge Cahill said he wished “elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law.”
McCarthy’s effort was particularly striking after he declined to take any action against Greene, who has referred to the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6 as a “1776 moment.” Democrats denounced his move as hypocritical because he has also not condemned inflammatory speech used by colleagues in his party around the time of the riot.
“Clean up your mess, Kevin,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 4 House Democrat, said at a news conference before the vote on Tuesday. “Sit this one out. You’ve got no credibility.”
The attempt to censure Waters resurrected tensions between Democrats and Republicans in the House, where many Democrats are still reluctant to work with those who had cast doubt on the legitimacy of President Biden’s victory or encouraged their supporters to march on the Capitol. In the immediate aftermath of the storming of Congress, some Democrats had clamored to censure or even expel Republican members who used bellicose language in the days leading up to the assault, but those efforts went nowhere.
Some Democrats who were unhappy with Waters’ comments feared that moving ahead with censuring her would unleash an endless tide of retributive measures, a concept that Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, invoked in a speech before the vote.
“If confrontation is subject to sanction, then we’re going to have a lot of people on your side of the aisle who we believe are confrontational every day,” he said, adding that Democrats had not advanced a number of similar resolutions targeting Republicans.
“This makes it harder, however, not to proceed on numerous resolutions on my side of the aisle,” Hoyer said.
The situation was reminiscent of the one McCarthy faced when Democrats pressured him to punish Greene for her past comments. Democrats moved unilaterally to strip her of her committee seats, citing the Republican leader’s unwillingness to do so-- an argument that McCarthy parroted on Monday.
“Speaker Pelosi is ignoring Waters’ behavior,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter on Monday. “That’s why I am introducing a resolution to censure Rep. Waters for these dangerous comments.”
Every Democrat voted to table McCarthy's ploy and every Republican voted against tabling it. On Friday, Ted Lieu told radio host Dean Obeidallah "That was a dangerous, disgusting and despicable video. In any other workplace in America if a coworker made an animated film killing another coworker, that person would be fired... The Republican caucus had a meeting where they were talking about stripping committee assignments from members of Congress, but they weren't talking about Paul Gosar [but about punishing the Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill]. And that is just where the Republican caucus is right now: They are in a very deep, dark and sick place." Ted is a co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which issued this statement:
"From spreading lies about the 2020 election which led to a violent insurrection that injured police officers, to Mr. Gosar’s disgusting threats against the American President and a fellow Member of Congress, Leader McCarthy’s refusal to take violence seriously is dangerous," said Cartwright, Dingell, Lieu, and Neguse. "In any other job in America, if a coworker made a video killing another coworker, that person would be fired. Mr. McCarthy needs to decide whether he will finally stand with the American people on the side of law and order or he will continue to support violence and chaos."
Gosar’s threat is just the latest in a pattern of McCarthy turning a blind eye to dangerous statements among his Caucus and refusing to stand on the side of law and order. In just two recent examples:
In September, Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn continued to promote the same dangerous lie that led to the violent January 6th insurrection, warning of ‘bloodshed’ and even suggesting he may be forced to ‘pick up arms against a fellow American,’ over the lie.
In August, Republican Representative Mo Brooks expressed sympathy for domestic terrorism while law enforcement heroically worked to stop a threat outside the U.S. Capitol.