What a possible censure of Gosar means

Arizona Republican posted doctored video of him killing AOC, attacking Biden

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., objects to Arizona's Electoral College votes certification for Joe Biden during a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., objects to Arizona's Electoral College votes certification for Joe Biden during a joint session of Congress in the House chamber on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 12, 2021 at 10:59am

House Democrats on Friday introduced a resolution to censure Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar — a penalty that would amount to the chamber publicly shaming Gosar — for posting an animated video of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and attacking President Joe Biden with swords.

If the resolution is adopted in the House by the required simple majority, Gosar would be forced to stand in the well of the chamber while Speaker Nancy Pelosi reads the resolution. That is the totality of discipline that would accompany this censure effort.

A censure resolution is a privileged question with precedence over all questions — aside from motions to adjourn — and can be called up by the sponsor, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., in this instance, without having to go through the Ethics Committee. The measure has 60 Democrats signed onto it.

Gosar posted the video on social media Sunday, a move that led Pelosi to later call on the House Ethics Committee and law enforcement to investigate.

In a Nov. 9 statement, Gosar did not apologize, and said the video, which appeared on his Twitter and Instagram accounts, was mischaracterized. The posts have been removed.

“The cartoon depicts the symbolic nature of a battle between lawful and unlawful policies and in no way intended to be a targeted attack against Representative Cortez or Mr. Biden,” he said. “It is a symbolic cartoon. It is not real life. Congressman Gosar cannot fly. The hero of the cartoon goes after the monster, the policy monster of open borders.”

Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Ted Lieu of California wrote a letter to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asking the California Republican to publicly ask for the Ethics Committee to investigate Gosar.

A spokesperson for McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment.

Other members of GOP leadership have not condemned Gosar’s post. Spokespeople for House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. did not respond to a request for comment.

Ocasio-Cortez criticized McCarthy earlier this week for not addressing Gosar's behavior.

The Ethics panel in August of 2020 admonished Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., more than a year after he posted a threatening tweet directed at Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for then-President Donald Trump. The committee found Gaetz’s “actions did not reflect creditably upon the House of Representatives.”

The ethics inquiry into Gaetz originated from a member complaint sent to the committee by New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice.

Notably, the committee said it “is not the social media police,” and that not all mistakes on social media merit disciplinary action. But it did caution members to use sound judgment on social media.

Admonishment is a public warning from the panel and, unlike reprimand, censure or expulsion, does not require House floor action. Ethics panel rules call for a reprimand in the case of “serious violations,” censure for “more serious violations,” and expulsion for the “most serious violations.”

Expulsion requires a two-thirds majority vote while reprimand and censure need simple majorities. The late Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., an Ohio Democrat, was expelled from the House in 2002. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., was reprimanded by the chamber in 2020.

In 2010, former Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., was censured after a protracted House investigation that included a rare public ethics trial and an almost 5,000-page report. The process culminated in Pelosi reading the resolution censuring her fellow Democrat.

A spokesperson for the Ethics Committee declined comment.

Threats against members of Congress are rising. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger has said he expects threats to exceed 9,000 by the end of 2021, an uptick from 8,613 in 2020, 6,955 in 2019, 5,206 in 2018 and 3,939 in 2017.

A spokesperson for the Capitol Police did not answer questions about whether the department considers Gosar’s video a threat against a member and whether the department is investigating.

“Potential threat investigations are one of the areas we still cannot discuss,” the spokesperson said.