While few Republicans voted Wednesday to blame Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Several GOP lawmakers say privately that his antics brought Republicans an unnecessary distraction in an otherwise upbeat month. It put them in defense just hours before the Democrats are expected to vote on Biden’s signature law to expand the social safety net. And Republicans would much rather talk about this bill – as they generally believe it is their ticket to flipping the handful of seats it takes to recapture the speaker’s gavel.
Instead, the GOP drama dominates the headlines. Inflation and democratic power struggles have receded into the background behind Gosar’s violent social media posts – he released an animated video showing how he killed MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) – and the intra-party backlash against the 13th Republicans Who Supported Infrastructure Vote This Month.
Her predicament was captured on Wednesday afternoon when McCarthy and dozens of Republicans held a press conference to oppose the Democrats’ social spending plan. When the top Republican opened the event to take questions from journalists, it was initially about Gosar.
“Did you listen to everything we said?” McCarthy replied to the reporter before dismissing the question and finally ending the press conference. The GOP leader later delivered a fiery speech in which he condemned the vote: “The speaker is burning the house down on the way to the door.”
But while tensions have certainly escalated, Republicans say the Gosar vote did not split the party, especially when compared to other moments this year. All but two Republicans voted against the censorship, arguing that Democrats had gone too far to remove him from committees. This step – once unheard of – has now happened twice in this Congress.
If anything, Republicans say the Democrats’ efforts to ostentatiously beat up Gosar while he was sitting three rows from the back of the room further poisoned relations across the aisle.
McCarthy privately told a group of members of the Republican Studies Committee on Wednesday that Gosar’s office was wrong in releasing the video but that it is opposed to majority-led efforts to reprimand the Arizona Republican. The GOP leader said if they recapture the majority he doesn’t believe Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., Should serve on the House Intelligence Committee, according to sources in the room. Republicans have also named Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. And House Financial Services Chairman Maxine Waters, D-Calif. As lawmakers who should be concerned if the Republicans retake the house.
Still, some moderate Republicans grumbled that McCarthy and his team could have done more to address the situation. MP Fred Upton (R-Mich.) Pointed out with Gosar that “that wasn’t the first,” recalling earlier comments in support of Nazis, white racists and baseless conspiracy theories.
Upton recalled tougher penalties former spokesman John Boehner (R-Ohio) imposed on members with a far lesser offense: “You are not wearing your tie properly, John Boehner wanted to pursue you.”
Upton – who received death threats from his own party’s voters last week for supporting Biden’s infrastructure bill – did not support Wednesday’s criticism, arguing that ousting Gosar from his committees was “a bit too far”.
Other moderates, too, are keen to overlook Gosar’s behavior and to pound Democrats back for their agenda. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (RN.J.) said, “Nobody is perfect” and it is time to “move on”.
The New Jersey Republican also tried to downplay threats within his party after voting for the Infrastructure Bill along with 12 other Republicans: “Nobody goes after me, a few members said something, but everyone else is great at it. I didn’t have a problem. “
The GOP’s urge to unite comes from the fact that members are largely optimistic about their prospects of recapturing the majority. But they also admit that party flares don’t help.
It is hardly a new problem for GOP leaders. This year it’s Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Before them, it was former MP Steve King (R-Iowa) – who narrowly avoided House censorship for repeated racist comments.
Democrats argue that the House of Representatives could have avoided dramatic reprimands on Gosar on the floor if the GOP leaders had taken their punishment into their own hands.
McCarthy privately used Gosar to remove the video and address the controversy in a statement, which the Arizonan eventually did. Gosar also apologized to his own GOP colleagues behind closed doors on Tuesday when he stood up and told the conference that the video was trying to reach a younger audience. But Gosar did not formally apologize to the Democrats who were in the video.
“I have firmly said that there is no other threat in the cartoon than the threat that immigration poses to our country,” said Gosar in a speech ahead of the no-confidence vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. “If I have to join Alexander Hamilton, first person tried to be reprimanded by this house, so be it.”
The lack of action is a postponement from a decade ago, when Boehner hardly shrank from cracking down on insurgents at his conference, such as when he kicked out half a dozen Freedom Caucus members in 2012 for rejecting certain votes.
But some Republicans say that once the leadership has lost its ability to keep members at bay once they have been kicked off a committee, they have few or no tools left to contain troubled members.
McCarthy, on the other hand, is faced with a push from members of the House Freedom Caucus and some ordinary members to advocate action against the Republicans who voted to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill earlier this month.
Greene, the newcomer, urges Republicans to lose their committee duties. Some of these Republicans say Greene posted her office phone numbers on Twitter – which she did because of her voice – leading to death threats for members like Upton.
Of the 13, Rep. John Katko experienced the most fire from his colleagues. GOP leaders had urged Republicans planning to vote for the bill to keep it to the end in order not to help the Democrats, according to GOP sources. Katko, the senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, was the first Republican to vote for the law.
Katko’s name was mentioned repeatedly during Tuesday’s GOP conference meeting when some pushed for him to be removed from his role on the supreme committee. But other Republicans are upset that GOP members attack each other.
“I never saw the video that Gosar posted. It’s probably stupid. And this movement to punish those 13 Republicans is stupid too, ”said MP Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas).
Anthony Adragna contributed to this report.