The House on Wednesday censured Rep. Paul Gosar and stripped him of his committee posts because of an anime-style video he posted online depicting a sword-fighting battle where he appears to kill Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Democrats approved the punishments in a near party-line vote, with only Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming crossing the aisle.
The final vote was 223 to 207, with one lawmaker — Republican Rep. David Joyce of Ohio — voting present. Three other Republican lawmakers didn’t vote.
Both sides of the hotly partisan debate argued that either the video or ensuing punishment reflected rapidly eroding standards of civility and propriety in Congress and across American politics.
Mr. Gosar, Arizona Republican, stood in the well of the House while the resolution was read aloud by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — as required to hammer home the embarrassing rebuke from his colleagues.
“It is a sad day for the House of Representatives, but a necessary day so that we can, again, behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect credibly on the House,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said during her floor remarks.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, responded that Democrats broke another precedent of the chamber.
“The speaker is burning down the House on her way out the door. What’s worse is we got to this point on the basis of a double standard that Democrats want to change the rules, but refuse to apply them to their own caucus,” he said.
Mr. McCarthy noted when Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, called on her supporters to publicly confront and harass members of the Trump administration in 2018 as well as flew to Minneapolis back in April to tell protesters to “stay in the street” and be “more confrontational” if former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was acquitted of killing George Floyd.
The offending video portrayed Mr. Gosar‘s face photoshopped onto an anime character and that character appears to kill a character photoshopped with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s face in a sword fight.
Mr. Gosar deleted the video after receiving vast criticism about the clip and receiving a call from Mr. McCarthy.
“These depictions are part of a larger trend of misogyny and racist misogyny. This has resulted in dampening participation,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, said on the floor. “And so this vote is not as complex as perhaps the Republican leader would like to make folks believe. It’s pretty cut and dry.”
Mr. Gosar defended himself saying, “I do not espouse violence towards anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset. I voluntarily took the cartoon down, not because it was itself a threat, but because some thought it was.”
He continued, “Out of compassion for those who generally felt offense, I self-censored. Last week, my staff hosted a video depicting a policy battle regarding amnesty for tens of millions of illegal aliens.”
In addition to Mr. Kinzinger and Ms. Cheney backing the resolution, GOP Rep. David Joyce of Ohio voted present. Mr. Joyce told CNN that he voted present because he is a member of the Ethics Committee and Mr. Gosar‘s conduct is pending before the panel.
Mr. Kinzinger and Ms. Cheney have frequently broken with the House Republican Conference, including voting to impeach then-President Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. Ted Deutch, Florida Democrat, proposed the legislation to remove Mr. Gosar of his seats on the Oversight Committee and Natural Resources Committee.
The censure resolution was authored by retiring Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat.
A censure resolution is the highest form of reprimand House members can impose upon a lawmaker before considering an expulsion measure. Expulsion from Congress requires two-thirds support in the chamber.
Mr. Gosar is only the second member of a minority party to be removed from committee assignments by the majority party. The first was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, who lost her committee assignments in February over offensive social media posts she made before she joined Congress. The posts disparaged several Democratic lawmakers.
As Mrs. Pelosi pronounced the censure of Mr. Gosar, he stood in the well with several Republican peers including Mrs. Greene, who blurted out, “What about Eric Swalwell? What about that one?”
Mr. Swalwell, a Democratic congressman from California, was allegedly compromised by Chinese spy Fang Fang, who is also known as Christine Fang. The scandal broke nearly a year ago and Republicans have called for Mr. Swalwell to be removed from the Intelligence Committee but to no avail.
Censure by the House is a relatively rare punishment. Twenty-three members of the House have been censured since 1832. The first, Rep. William Stanbery, of Ohio, was censured for insulting the speaker during a floor debate.
The last lawmaker to be censured was then-Rep. Charles Rangel, New York Democrat, in 2010 over various ethics violations.
The unprecedented move to strip committee assignments from Mrs. Greene prompted some Republican lawmakers to warn that the GOP is ready to do the same to Democrats should they take the majority next year.
House Democrats brushed off threats by House GOP members and went after Mr. Gosar.
“This is not an action of partisanship. It’s not an action of vindictiveness. It’s not an action of ‘I get you, you get me.’ And it’s shameful that they would view it that way. Though, I know that that’s what they’re going to do,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, told The Washington Times. “It’s against the law to murder. It’s against the law to provoke the potential of someone losing their life. That’s what’s on that floor today.”
Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, argued the censure resolution took the action as “solely to play politics with this moment and to score a cheap political point at the expense of a member of the minority.”
“First, the majority voted to remove a Republican member of Congress from her committee assignments. Second, the speaker unilaterally refused to appoint two of leader McCarthy‘s choices to be Republican members on the select committee on the Jan. 6 attack. And, instead, appointed Republicans she wanted on the committee,” he said.
“Both of these actions are in stark contrast to the norms and traditions of the House of Representatives. Today, the majority is taking a third such action,” Mr. Cole said. “This continues to set an extremely dangerous precedent for the future of the institution.”
House Democrats argued that there is no slippery slope that will change the standard of how House leadership will appoint its members to committees, claiming Republicans threatened to remove their members from committees in the past over not voting for legislation the majority of the GOP conference supported.
“For all the talk from those on the other side about the standard somehow being a slippery slope, let me remind them that it is their own colleagues who have suggested removing Republicans, not for advocating violence, but for voting for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Is this the state of the Republican Party today?” asked Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Chairman of the Rules Committee.
He added, “If you vote for a bipartisan bill, your own colleagues will call for retribution, but if you tweet a video depicting the murder of a colleague and depicting violence against the president of the United States, that’s somehow, OK, come on.”