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Rep. Gosar is censured over an anime video depicting him killing AOC

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., was censured by the House of Representatives and lost his committee assignments after posting a violent video on social media of a character with his image murdering a character with New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's image.
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Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., was censured by the House of Representatives and lost his committee assignments after posting a violent video on social media of a character with his image murdering a character with New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's image.

Updated November 17, 2021 at 5:50 PM ET

The House of Representatives voted to censure hardline Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and remove him from his two committee assignments.

The vote was mostly along party lines, 223-207. Two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., joined all Democrats to censure Gosar, while Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, voted present.

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The formal rebuke came after Gosar posted an anime style video on Twitter last week that depicts him murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, and attacking President Biden. The video, which he deleted after intense blowback, shows a a character with Gosar's image wielding a sword to kill a character with the image of Ocasio-Cortez.

Gosar sat in the back corner of the House floor during Wednesday's debate wearing an American flag mask. When it was his turn to speak he defended the video, saying "no threat was intended" and did not express any regret for the fallout. He compared himself to Alexander Hamilton, who was the first person Congress attempted to censure, when he served in George Washington's cabinet.

Also present in the chamber was Ocasio-Cortez, who argued the issue was "pretty cut and dry" — if violence was not acceptable in people's homes, in school board meetings, it should not be acceptable in Congress.

Under the censure resolution adopted by the House, Gosar had to stand in the well of the chamber and listen to the rebuke as it was read aloud. And he will no longer serve on the Natural Resources committee or the Oversight panel — where Ocasio Cortez is also a member.

The last time the House censured a lawmaker was in 2010 when the ethics committee found Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., misused official congressional resources and filed inaccurate financial reports and tax returns.

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A partisan debate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House needed to act now on Gosar "because it's an emergency." She said it amounted to "violence against women, workplace harassment, really I think legal matters in terms threatening our member and threatening the president of the United States." She added, "this is outrageous, and outrageous on the part of the Republican leadership not to act upon this."

The No. 2 House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said the video could qualify as a criminal offense since making threats against federal officials is illegal. During the floor debate Hoyer looked over to the GOP side of the floor and yelled, "Have you no shame?"

And while some Republicans brought up a host of other issues from inflation to immigration, others condemned violence but countered the Democratic response went too far. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the issue should have been referred to the House ethics committee.

Joyce's present vote was a nod to that option. "As a former prosecutor and member of the House Ethics Committee, Congressman Joyce has a unique understanding of the Committee's duty to carry out its investigatory and adjudication responsibilities in an impartial manner, " said Joyce spokesperson Katherine Sears. "As such, he may deem it appropriate to vote present on legislation related to matters that are or could come before the Committee."

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Cole added he thought the video "was certainly provocative and in my opinion inappropriate" but he said setting the precedent of allowing the majority to decide the minority party's committee assignments sets a "slippery slope for the institution to go down." And he said GOP leaders have a history of policing their members' conduct.

During his floor speech, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., argued Democrats were changing the rules of the chamber, and setting a standard they didn't accept for comments from their own members. In a personal swipe, he said, "The speaker is burning down the House on the way out the door."

But on the floor, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., referred to the violence that took place in the chamber on Jan. 6. "This Congress knows what happens when members of the radical right get stirred up by their leaders," she said.

Uptick in violence and threats

Ocasio-Cortez told reporters the video is part of a pattern that normalizes violence. She has had a security detail for months following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and says threats have increased recently. She said the House must respond.

"I believe this is a part of a concerted strategy and I think it's very important for us to draw a strict line a strong line for material consequence," said the New York congresswoman.

It's not just Democrats who have seen an uptick in threats. Some House Republicans have also faced increase security threats recently.

After 13 House GOP members joined Democrats to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, another hardline Republican, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called those members "traitors" and posted their office numbers on Twitter. Several of the Republicans reported thousands of angry calls flooding their offices. Both Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., reported death threats. Police in Nassau County, N.Y., arrested a 64-year-old man for threatening to kill Rep. Andrew Garbarino, R-N.Y.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., who also voted for the infrastructure bill, said he made it clear to GOP leaders and his constituents he was backing the bill and hasn't faced any serious blowback from this vote. But he told reporters that after he switched parties in 2019 after being elected as a Democrat he, his wife, daughters and grandchildren faced some death and rape threats.

"It happens a lot," he said, and said he reported it to the FBI and a man was arrested a few months ago.

Greene is pushing for the 13 members to lose their committee positions, and there is a resolution to strip Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., from his top slot on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Van Drew didn't think that effort would proceed. He declined to single out any of his fellow Republicans when he talked to reporters earlier in the week for the amped up rhetoric. He admitted he had not seen the Gosar video. "Both parties need to encourage more of a process that is gentle for the lack of a better, not even gentle, even normal and I think in time it will calm down. It's America, it's a good place."

Gosar defends his position

On Tuesday, Gosar explained to his GOP colleagues in a closed door meeting that his staff created the video and he had not seen it before it was posted and he took it down later.

But talking to a conservative outlet Red Voice Media Tuesday afternoon, he defended the video as an outreach effort about the Democrats' agenda. "It's an anime — we were trying to reach out to newer generations, who like these new cartoons fabricated in Japanese likeness to actually tell them what's harmful in this bill," Gosar said, referring to the Democrats' domestic spending bill the House is expected to consider this week.

He also said he didn't apologize, saying, "I just said this video had nothing to do with harming anybody." Ocasio-Cortez told reporters she hasn't received any apology from Gosar, and complained about the lack of response from top Republican leaders.

Leader McCarthy said Tuesday the video was out of line, adding "we cannot accept any action of a showing of violence to another member or anything else. That's inappropriate. It cannot stand."

This is the second time a House Republican has faced penalties for over the line political rhetoric. In February the House stripped Greene of her committee assignments for a string of threatening statements she made about Democrats.

Republican leaders warned then that calling out lawmakers for controversial statements sets a bad precedent.

But Ocasio-Cortez said if Republicans oppose this resolution it will send the wrong message. "I think it says that they believe that this behavior is acceptable towards women in workplaces across the country."

NPR's Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.

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Corrected: November 16, 2021 at 9:00 PM PST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Rep. John Katko as a Democrat. He is a Republican.
Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.