Republicans hint at retribution after Democrats throw Rep. Gosar off committees

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Democrats will need majority approval from a future Republican-led House to serve on committees.

McCarthy defends Rep. Gosar after censure vote

Nov. 18, 202102:14By Sahil Kapur

WASHINGTON — Before the House voted Wednesday to censure Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and throw him off committees, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy delivered a veiled warning to Democrats that their seats may not be safe if his party takes control next year.

The clash is the latest example of escalating political warfare as far-right lawmakers push the limits of acceptable discourse and Democrats insist that their behavior cannot go unpunished.

In 2019, Republicans acted on their own to kick former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, off committees for speaking positively about white supremacy. But since then they’ve declined to act on violent or racist rhetoric of other members who have aligned themselves with former President Donald Trump. Democrats took matters into their own hands by booting Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from committees.

Gosar was striped of his committees after he posted an anime video depicting himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and brandishing swords at President Joe Biden.

Now Republicans are citing remarks by Democrats that are dissimilar, but have drummed up outrage among their voters, as basis for future retaliation if they seize control of the House next fall.

McCarthy referred to past comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., saying that U.S. support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” a remark that she apologized for after bipartisan criticism that she was pushing anti-Semitic tropes. He also referred to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., tweeting, “Lock up Kyle Rittenhouse and throw away the key.” And he mentioned reports that Rep. Eric Swalwell was targeted by a suspected Chinese spy, which the California Democrat and intelligence officials have said did not result in compromising any sensitive information.

McCarthy argued that the precedent set by Speaker Nancy Pelosi — allowing members of the minority to be removed from committees by a vote of the majority — could subject those Democrats to similar punishments in a Republican-led House. All hold highly-sought committee assignments: Swalwell on Intelligence, Omar on Foreign Affairs and Jeffries on Judiciary.

“What they have started cannot be easily undone. Their actions today, and the past, have forever changed the way the House operates,” McCarthy said on the House floor. “And furthermore, it means under the Pelosi precedent, all the members that I have mentioned earlier will need the approval of a majority to keep those positions in the future.”

“This body has suffered greatly. And the new standard will continue to be applied in the future,” he said, without defending or condemning Gosar.

The resolution to censure Gosar, R-Ariz., passed 223-207, with just two Republicans voting with Democrats: Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Gosar did not apologize, but said he took the video down because it was misunderstood.

On Thursday, McCarthy declined to elaborate on which Democrats could get the ax from committees if he were to become speaker.

“This isn’t about threats. But it’s about holding people accountable,” he told reporters.

Democrats say they’re happy to be held to their own standard and strip members of their own party of committee assignments if they depict violence against a colleague.

“Let me be clear: If a Democrat did the same thing, I would introduce the same resolution,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., the author of the resolution.

Pelosi brushed off questions about the potential for GOP retaliation against Democrats over committee seats, telling reporters on Thursday that she won’t base decisions on what Republicans could do in the “unlikely case that they might win the Congress.”

“We would not walk away from our responsibilities for fear of something they may do in the future,” she said.

Numerous Republicans said they weren’t defending Gosar or his video, but opposed the punishment.

“Going down the road of pulling each other off of committees — where’s this going to end? When Republicans are back in the majority, where is this going to end?” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, saying he has objected to remarks that Ocasio-Cortez has made about his ex-boss, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Doug Heye, a former House Republican leadership said, said there’s “no doubt” in his mind that a future GOP majority would seek to throw Democrats off committees over extreme language.

“It’s a statement of the obvious,” he said. “On Capitol Hill, precedents matter.”

Heye said he supported censuring Gosar but that Democrats should have opted for a “clean” censure that didn’t target his committee assignments. Although Democrats say this was about punishing a portrayal of violence against a colleague — and not merely disagreeable rhetoric — Heye said a future Republican majority could interpret and apply the standard differently.

“That’s a question that will come from within the party,” he said. “Unfortunately, in Washington, the loudest voices are able to be emboldened.”

McCarthy said that under a hypothetical Republican majority, Gosar and Greene would be seated on House committees.

“They’ll have committees,” he told reporters. “They may have other committee assignments. They may have better committee assignments.”

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