The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump endorses Gosar as Republicans rally around the lawmaker who posted an altered anime video with himself killing a colleague

Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) heads to the Capitol building on Wednesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Former president Donald Trump and House Republicans rallied behind Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) Thursday, a day after he was censured for posting an altered anime video of himself killing a colleague, endorsing his reelection and signaling he would be given better committee assignments if Republicans win control of the House in 2022.

Trump praised Gosar, who has served in Congress for a a decade and earlier this year appeared at an event whose organizer has defended racial segregation and minimized the Holocaust, as “a loyal supporter of our America First agenda, and even more importantly, the USA.”

Trump said in a statement, “Paul is a Congressman who is highly respected in Arizona, strong on Crime, Borders, our Military, and our Veterans. He continually fights for Lower Taxes, Less Regulations, and our great, but under siege, Second Amendment. Paul A. Gosar has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also said that he would probably give Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) better committee assignments if Republicans win the majority in the midterm elections next year, dismissing the lawmakers’ embrace of violent rhetoric and imagery against Democrats.

The comments come one day after the House censured Gosar for tweeting an anime video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and swinging swords toward President Biden. Gosar said that he wasn’t promoting violence and has not apologized for sharing the video. He is also soliciting the names of Democrats who should be stripped of their committee assignments in a Republican-controlled House.

Trump and McCarthy’s remarks underscore that the festering distrust among members of Congress after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is only likely to worsen in the lead-up to next year’s midterm elections.

House censures Gosar over video depicting slaying of lawmaker

At his weekly news conference Thursday morning, McCarthy was asked about his threat the previous day to remove several Democrats from their committee posts should he become House speaker in the next Congress.

“This isn’t about threats, but it’s about holding people accountable,” McCarthy replied. “I think the majority is going to have to approve any of those members on the committees of which they could serve.”

Gosar and Greene, by contrast, would not only be given committee assignments but might even be rewarded with more highly coveted ones, McCarthy said. “They may have other committee assignments. They may have better committee assignments,” he said. “I think with Gosar, those are the ones he wants. Taylor Greene, she was just a freshman. I know she has requested others. She has the right to serve on committees.”

February’s House vote to oust Greene from her committee assignments was 230 to 199, with 11 Republicans voting with Democrats to back the move. On Wednesday, only two Republicans joined Democrats in voting to censure Gosar and remove him from his assignments on the House Oversight and Natural Resources committees.

Democrats have expressed increasing alarm about violent political rhetoric 10 months after a mob of Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol. But beyond brief mentions of not condoning violence, few Republicans have directed any criticism at Gosar for posting a video last week depicting himself plunging a sword into the back of a colleague’s neck.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) said Republicans’ continued support for Gosar is a reflection of a larger issue rooted in their leadership’s fear of being alienated from their party’s base.

“This is crazy stuff because there has never been a time in American history, except maybe the Civil War era, when violence was condoned, whether implicitly or explicitly, from within the United States Congress,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It’s not asking much to simply have the minority leader condemn the actions of one of his own members that risks initiating violence against a colleague, especially given what we saw happen on Jan. 6, which was just earlier this year.”

Jones said he fears the Republican Party is abandoning democracy in an effort to “seize power by any means necessary, including deadly force.”

Capitol siege was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event

Ocasio-Cortez echoed his remarks, telling reporters at the Capitol on Thursday that McCarthy “has made very, very clear” that if Republicans retake control of the chamber in the midterm elections, “they will govern with a very authoritarian ideology” and aim to “transform the House of Representatives into a nondemocratic institution.”

Gosar deleted the video at McCarthy’s urging but has maintained that it was not “dangerous or threatening” in nature, likening it to a children’s cartoon. The clip was viewed more than 3 million times before Gosar removed it, Democrats said.

On Thursday morning, Gosar shared a conservative commentator’s post suggesting that removing 10 House Democrats from their committees “might be just the starting point!” He tweeted to his supporters, “In the comments post your list and why.”

Republicans have named two Democrats whom they plan to keep off committees if they take control: Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.). Republicans have argued that Waters was urging violence in April when she called on protesters to “get more active” and “get more confrontational” if a jury voted to acquit former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd. Democrats said she was calling for peaceful protests.

Republicans have also pointed to Omar’s criticism of Israel and some remarks that members of both parties have called antisemitic, including one that suggested Israel’s allies in American politics were motivated by money rather than principle, as a reason to deny her a seat on committees. Omar has apologized for those comments and said that she did not intend them to be antisemitic.

At her own news conference Thursday, Pelosi shrugged off McCarthy’s threat of retribution against Democrats and accused Republicans of “undermining” American democracy “every single day.”

“You see their behavior on the floor” shows “they shouldn’t have a gavel be anywhere near them, ever,” Pelosi told reporters. “But no, we would not walk away from our responsibilities for fear of something they may do in the future.” Pelosi and other Democrats have denounced Gosar’s video for political violence but also for violence against women.

“It was a source of humor and bragging by the members on the other side of the aisle. This is just, I mean, just stunning for me,” Pelosi said, adding that Democrats were in “overwhelming” agreement that they should seek the “maximum penalty that we could achieve” against Gosar for putting fellow lawmakers’ lives at risk with insensitive posts.

Greene says she has been ‘freed’ to push the party further right

During Wednesday’s House debate, several Democratic women spoke out about the increasing threats they have faced in recent months.

Ocasio-Cortez has faced harassment from a number of Republican members of Congress. Last year, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) accosted the congresswoman on the steps of the Capitol, calling her “disgusting” and reportedly using a sexist slur to describe her once she was out of earshot.

Greene aggressively confronted Ocasio-Cortez in May, shouting at her, following her down a Capitol hallway and falsely accusing her of supporting “terrorists.” When asked Thursday about McCarthy’s defense of Gosar, Ocasio-Cortez told reporters that she would “love” for the Republican leader “to shout that from the rooftops.”

“Please let him communicate to the entire country that he is deeply supportive of people who are violent toward women” and that he is “deeply accepting of members who fundraise for neo-Nazi organizations and placing them on important committees,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Gosar has long drawn criticism for his extremist views, including his spreading of the false claim that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 were part of a left-wing plot. In February, he served as the keynote speaker at an event hosted by Nicholas Fuentes, a political activist who has expressed fear about what will happen to America as its population becomes much less white.

In June, Gosar’s image appeared on a fundraising invitation with Fuentes, but the congressman denied he planned to attend the event or knowing anything about the invitation. The lawmaker’s siblings have been vocal in criticizing their brother’s politics, even going so far as to appear in a television ad endorsing his Democrat opponent in the 2018.

Jennifer Gosar, the lawmaker’s youngest sister, said Republican leaders’ embrace of her brother sends a dangerous message to the rank and file members of the Republican Party. “The fact that somebody like former president Trump would give his stamp of approval to people that are engaged in that way, that is all that they need to continue supporting, giving funds, showing up and expressing hate,” she said. “It’s further verification in the echo chamber there.”

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Thursday that Republicans have once again displayed an inability to “shake off their blinders” and rediscover right from wrong. “There’s not a person in the Republican caucus who doesn’t know that this is wrong, but there’s only two of them that are willing to say it out loud and that speaks volumes,” Maloney said, referring to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).

“What you’re seeing is Kevin McCarthyism, a willingness to do anything to win power and to put with anyone to win power. That’s the real story.”

Marianna Sotomayor, Paul Kane and Mike DeBonis contributed.