Members of the U.S. Congress voted on Wednesday to censure Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona for posting an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword, an extraordinary rebuke that highlighted the political strains testing Washington and the country.
Calling the video a clear threat to a lawmaker's life, Democrats argued that Gosar's conduct would not be tolerated in any other workplace — and shouldn't be in Congress.
The vote to censure Gosar and strip him of his committee assignments was approved by a vote of 223-207, almost entirely along party lines.
Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the vote an "abuse of power" by Democrats to distract from national problems. He said of the censure that a "new standard will continue to be applied in the future," a signal of potential ramifications for Democratic members in future Congresses.
But Democrats said there was nothing political about it.
'An insult to the institution'
"These actions demand a response. We cannot have members joking about murdering each other," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "This is both an endangerment of our elected officials and an insult to the institution."
Ocasio-Cortez herself said in an emotional speech, "Our work here matters. Our example matters. There is meaning in our service. And as leaders, in this country, when we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down to violence in this country. And that is where we must draw the line."
Unrepentant, Gosar rejected what he called the "mischaracterization" that the cartoon was "dangerous or threatening. It was not."
"I do not espouse violence toward anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset," Gosar said.
Gosar compared himself to Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary of the U.S., who was celebrated in recent years in a Broadway musical and whose censure vote in Congress was defeated. "If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person attempted to be censured by this House, so be it, it is done."
The decision to censure Gosar, one of the strongest punishments the House can dole out, was just the fourth in nearly 40 years — and just the latest example of the raw tensions that have roiled Congress since the 2020 election and the violent Capitol insurrection that followed.
The resolution will remove Gosar from two committees: natural resources and the oversight and reform panel, on which Ocasio-Cortez also serves, limiting his ability to shape legislation and deliver for constituents. It states that depictions of violence can foment actual violence and jeopardize the safety of elected officials, citing the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as an example.
Gosar becomes the 24th House member to be censured. Though it carries no practical effect except to provide a historic footnote that marks a lawmaker's career, it is the strongest punishment the House can issue short of expulsion, which requires a two-thirds vote.