WASHINGTON – House Democrats continued to press for action Friday against Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, over a violent cartoon video that appears to show him attacking the president and killing a liberal House Democrat.
Close to 30 Democrats said they plan to introduce a censure resolution chiding Gosar for the video, which was posted to his congressional social media accounts, and another 10 wrote the House GOP leader, urging him to call for a House Ethics Committee investigation.
But House Republicans have yet to move against Gosar, who said in a statement Tuesday that he does not “espouse violence or harm” and that the video was merely a “symbolic” statement on the battle between conservatives and liberals over an upcoming immigration proposal.
Neither Gosar nor House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., responded to requests for comment Friday.
The 90-second video, posted over the weekend, is an edited version of the anime show “Attack on Titan,” about humans who have to defend themselves from destructive giants that break into their walled cities and kill or eat the humans inside.
In Gosar’s version, the face of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has been superimposed on a titan and Gosar’s face has been pasted onto a sword-wielding, jetpack-wearing soldier who slices the back of the titan’s neck, killing it.
The video also shows the Gosar character flying toward President Joe Biden, swords drawn, but stops before an attack.
Faces of other House conservatives, including GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, are also pasted onto soldiers in the video. It includes what appear to be blood-spattered clips of migrants crossing the border, interspersed with the words “drugs,” “crime” “gangs” and more, and images of Border Patrol agents rounding them up.
The video was flagged by Twitter for violating its “hateful content” guidelines but it was left up because of its potential public interest. It had been taken down by late Tuesday, but not before racking up more than 3.3 million views.
The video brought swift condemnation from Democrats.
“Fantasizing about killing a colleague is dangerous, deranged, and promotes violence,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, in a tweet Tuesday. Tlaib was one of 10 Democrats who wrote McCarthy urging him to call for a House Ethics Committee investigation, as well as one of 29 co-sponsors of the censure resolution.
But James Wallner, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, questioned whether the House should be censuring members when “there are more important debates to be had.” The video may be disturbing, he said, but that it was still speech for which accommodations should be made.
“Disciplining members for activity, for speech, for action, for using rules and procedures or for doing things that people find distasteful, makes it harder for Congress’ members to debate and compromise, as envisioned in the Constitution,” Wallner said Friday.
“This isn’t a question of whether or not we like what Rep. Gosar has done,” he said. “It’s a question of what the consequences are of the House using its procedures to punish Rep. Gosar and what those consequences are for Congress more broadly and its role in our political system and the health of our politics.”
But the censure resolution noted that even though Gosar defended the video as a symbolic statement of policy, “depictions of violence can foment actual violence and jeopardize the safety of elected officials.” It pointed to the Jan. 6 mob that stormed the Capitol and sent lawmakers fleeing for safety as they were certifying the election that ousted former President Donald Trump.
That was echoed by censure resolution co-sponsor Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who tweeted that the “disgusting, threatening, and violent video continues @RepGosar’s … behavior that fits neatly into what led up to and the aftermath of January 6.”
Censure is one of the milder forms of official actions lawmakers can invoke to protect the “integrity and dignity” of Congress and its proceedings. Congress can reprimand, censure or expel a member, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Expulsion requires a two-thirds majority. Censure and reprimand require only a majority vote, the difference being that when a member is censured, he must stand in the well of the House while the speaker reads out the resolution against him, according to House rules.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called on McCarthy to step in, as well as urging the Ethics Committee and law enforcement to investigate the video. The 10 Democrats who wrote to McCarthy asked for the same, saying action is needed to “promote civility, discourse, and cooperation.”
“Sharing the glorification of violence expressed in this video goes far beyond the protections afforded by the Speech and Debate Clause in the constitution and is beneath the dignity of a person serving in the Congress of the United States,” the letter read.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., one of the signers of the letter, called Gosar’s video an example of his “sick behavior.”
“In any workplace in America, if a coworker made an anime video killing another coworker, that person would be fired,” Lieu said in a tweet.
But Wallner warned that taking action against members will have a “longer, more damaging effect on our system.”
“While obviously there are some things out there that are extremely distasteful that shouldn’t be tolerated, I think we should always err on the side of allowing for speech and trying to encourage an environment conducive to critical inquiry and robust debate on Capitol Hill, and not be engaged in censuring lawmakers for activities,” he said.