The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The new House majority uses the levers of power to stoke paranoia

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) leaves the House chamber Thursday after Republicans voted to oust her from the Foreign Affairs Committee. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
12 min

A CNN poll last week found that about three-quarters of Americans, including nearly half of Republicans, think House Republican leaders aren’t paying enough attention to the country’s most pressing problems.

So this week, GOP leaders set out to rectify the situation. They approved a resolution condemning the Russian Revolution. Of 1917.

But before you call Bolshevik on Republican leaders for being 106 years out of date, I should note, in fairness, that their resolution also took issue with more recent events: Joseph Stalin’s Ukrainian famine, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and Pol Pot’s “killing fields.”

For those who haven’t kept up with current affairs, those events happened, respectively, in 1932-1933, 1958-1960 and 1975-1979. Still awaiting legislative action by the new House majority: a condemnation of Genghis Khan’s Siege of Merv in 1221 and the Roman Sack of Carthage during the Third Punic War.

The Republicans’ late hit on 20th-century atrocities served a 21st-century partisan aim — specifically, the insinuation that Democrats are trying to import the “horrors of socialism” to the United States. “Congress denounces socialism in all its forms and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States,” the resolution concluded.

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It was some good, old-fashioned red-baiting, in the year 2023.

“Socialism is the greatest threat to our economy and freedom and must be defeated,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-Tex.) warned the House on Thursday, calling the fictional menace “alarming and scary.”

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Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) joined the caterwauling, saying the Biden administration had seized “control of the means of production” from private industries. “God have mercy on our country!”

And Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) felt qualified after one month in office to declare that the Democratic Party “has been taken over by a radical socialist ideology.”

Most Democrats went along with the resolution — it’s not a good look to be on the same side of a vote as Pol Pot — but not before they had some fun with the red-scare revivalism.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) pointed out that the Paycheck Protection Program might qualify as socialism to Republicans, then asked consent to insert into the record the names of all Republican lawmakers who requested PPP loans and forgiveness.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), leading the antisocialist forces on the floor, leapt to his feet. “I object!” he said.

The attempt to draw an unbroken line from Uncle Joe Stalin to Sleepy Joe Biden was downright silly, but it served a deadly serious purpose. It is part of a broader effort by Republicans that encourages Americans to see enemies everywhere within their government.

This week alone, the new majority used its powers in committee rooms and on the House floor to undermine trust in government on various fronts:

  • Falsely claiming that lazy bureaucrats are refusing to go to work, denying Americans their tax refunds, passports and benefits.
  • Falsely insinuating that the government is forcing Americans to take coronavirus vaccines that are both deadly and useless.
  • Falsely asserting that the Biden administration is in effect killing Americans by encouraging fentanyl smugglers to enter the country across “open borders.”
  • Falsely declaring the only Muslim on the House Foreign Affairs Committee a threat to national security and booting her from the panel in a party-line vote.
  • And, for extra credit, summoning the ghosts of Stalin and Mao to suggest that the administration promotes an ideology of mass murder.

The bureaucrats are cheating you. The vaccine is killing you. Immigrants are drugging your children. Muslims are endangering you. And the bloodthirsty socialists are destroying your way of life. The new majority is using the levers of power to stoke paranoia.


Last month, in its first legislative action, the new House majority voted to rescind more than $70 billion in funding for the IRS, much of it intended to improve customer service at the agency.

This week, many of those same Republican lawmakers went to the House floor with a new grievance: They are angry about — wait for it — poor customer service at the IRS.

“The American people have suffered” while waiting “for months for their tax refunds,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, declared on the House floor.

Can the IRS run an irony audit on these guys?

Republicans, some of whom are still scaring Americans with the bogus claim that 87,000 armed IRS agents will be breaking down their doors, now have a new conspiracy theory: The IRS’s backlogs are caused by teleworking. (It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the IRS had its budget slashed by 15 percent since 2010, while the number of returns jumped by nearly 10 million annually.)

Therefore, the new majority passed a bill this week ordering IRS employees and all federal workers to return to teleworking levels that existed in 2019 — before the pandemic forever changed the way people work. The title of the bill is as jumbled as its goal: the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems Act — a word soup that forms the acronym SHOW UP.

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But it’s not really about teleworking. It’s about encouraging Americans to loathe federal workers.

“This legislation asks every member to ask a simple question,” Comer told the House. “Do you put the needs of your constituents first, or do you put the preferences of federal bureaucrats first?”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the Education and Workforce committee, blamed “bureaucrats in Washington” for making it so that “delay and disarray might as well have become hallmarks of federal agencies and departments.”

The sentiment was much the same at a hearing Comer held Wednesday on waste and fraud in pandemic-relief programs. There, he bemoaned taxpayer dollars “wasted by bureaucrats whose only priority is getting money out the door.”

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) picked up the theme: “How the heck were these bureaucrats so dang incompetent?”

And over at the Rules Committee, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said bureaucrats “are not getting the work done” — something he knows because he “just hired a girl who’d been with Social Security for 20 years.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) protested the “implied contempt” for federal workers in Republicans’ statements. But really, it’s explicit. “They’re surely collecting their paychecks,” said a sneering Steve Scalise, the majority leader. “It’s long past time that they show up for work.”


The complaint that federal workers don’t work is contradicted by another complaint — that federal workers are working hard to kill everyday Americans with lethal vaccines and opioid overdoses.

The new House majority passed a bill this week aimed at striking down the “tyrannical” requirement that many health-care workers get vaccinated. It came armed with vials of disinformation.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) announced that it has “been proven false” that the vaccine “stops the spread” and that government agencies “have conceded” this. The original vaccine is “for a virus that no longer exists,” he claimed, and the vaccine “can cause myocarditis, blood clots, strokes and even death.”

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) joined in, telling the House that the vaccine has “been admitted by our own CDC director, by the CDC, by the NIH, to do nothing to stop transmission.”

That’s just wrong. The vaccines don’t entirely prevent spread — but they reduce it. The vaccines do have rare side effects — but the risk of death from the virus itself is much greater.

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Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.), a doctor, spoke of people shunning the vaccine “based upon fears about fertility” — without mentioning that there is no basis for such fears.

But there is only so much room for vaccine terror in the overworked amygdala of the Republican voter. That’s because they also have to fear migrant drug smugglers crossing our “open borders.”

In reality, illegal border crossings fell by about 40 percent in January, The Post reported this week. Most of the fentanyl seized has been at legal border crossings, typically smuggled by U.S. citizens — not by migrants crossing illegally.

Yet Republicans used the first hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to alarm Americans about “Mexican smuggling cartels exploiting the open border to terrorize U.S. communities,” as Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) put it. “Under President Biden, there is no border, and Americans are paying the price.”

Never mind that U.S. authorities stopped migrants nearly 3 million times at the supposedly “open border” last fiscal year. You should be very afraid.

Heck, you should even be afraid that the alleged Chinese spy balloon spotted over Montana might have taken off from Wuhan loaded with bioweapons — as Comer speculated Friday on Fox News. Is it any wonder that Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) and other House Republicans are now arming themselves with lapel pins shaped like tiny AR-15 assault rifles?


If things weren’t already scary enough, the new House majority this week declared an emergency.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

High prices?

Violent crime?

Well, no. Their emergency was the need to kick Ilhan Omar off the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lickety-split.

So House Republicans declared an emergency in order to override the rule they had voted in with great fanfare just a couple of weeks ago that bills must be introduced 72 hours before receiving a vote. Apparently, having the Minnesota Democrat continue to serve on the panel for even one more day would be ruinous.

Scalise, the majority leader, cited “concerns to national security” this week in claiming it “would create major problems if she were on the Foreign Affairs Committee” with “access to classified, sensitive information.”

In a refreshing moment of candor, Republicans on the House Rules Committee on Tuesday night admitted that was B.S.

“This is raw politics. That’s what this is,” acknowledged Roy of Texas.

Massie, of Kentucky, concurred: “It’s a partisan exercise.”

Added Norman, of South Carolina: “The partisanship is real, and I’m glad.”

This was revenge, pure and simple. Two years ago, Democrats had votes to remove Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) from committees for engaging in social-media fantasies about killing Democratic colleagues. (Republicans have reinstated both.)

Omar hadn’t threatened violence against anyone. She made antisemitic remarks a few years ago, and, after an outcry from Democrats and Republicans alike, she apologized unequivocally — a detail omitted from the resolution denouncing her. Votes to remove Greene and Gosar were bipartisan; Friday’s vote to oust Omar was strictly partisan.

A few Republicans had qualms about what they were doing. “This is not my resolution; I didn’t draft it,” saidMichael Guest (R-Miss.), who as chairman of the Ethics Committee had the task of leading the debate on the House floor. (McHenry, of North Carolina, used that same phrase — “this is not my resolution” — to excuse his involvement in the “socialism” denouncement charade.)

Likewise, Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) said last week that she wouldn’t join the “circus” of ousting Omar — but this week she donned a clown suit under pressure.

Maybe they should have heeded their consciences, for the debate was ugly.

After Guest quickly ran out of speakers (only six enlisted), he spent much of the debate reserving his time and leaving the Democrats’ allegations unrebutted.

And they were lacerating:

“This is the very weaponization of antisemitism that I as a Jewish person find repulsive, dangerous and shameful,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (Minn.).

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), bouncing with fury, accused Republicans of “racism and incitement of violence against women of color in this body.”

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Rep. Cori Bush (Mo.) saw a “blatantly Islamophobic and racist attack on Congresswoman Omar.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.) shouted for Republicans to “look in your own damn mirror” for antisemitism.

“Unbelievable bigotry. Shame on you!” scolded Rep. Mark Pocan (Wis.).

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), breaking into sobs, said Republicans had turned “Congress into a place of fearmongering hate.”

And Guest kept saying: “I reserve.”

Omar stood with a poster showing her as a 9-year-old Somali refugee who fled civil war. “There is this idea that you are suspect if you are an immigrant, or if you are from certain parts of the world, or a certain skin tone, or a Muslim,” she said, angrily reminding her Republican assailants: “I am an American — an American who was sent here by her constituents to represent them in Congress.”

She closed with defiance. “My leadership and voice will not be diminished if I am not on this committee for one term,” she said. “So take your vote or not. I am here to stay.”

The hugs and tears she shared on the floor with her colleagues — Black, White and Brown; Jewish, Christian and Muslim — were a powerful rejoinder to the Republicans’ reign of fear and loathing.