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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Dealing with GOP Crazies

PARTY DISCIPLINE — If you want to know more about the state of the House GOP Conference — and, likely, your future House majority! — today should provide a pretty telling snapshot. Ten months after rioters stormed the Capitol hunting for lawmakers, most House Republicans are expected to vote against rebuking one of their colleagues, PAUL GOSAR (R-Ariz.), who posted an anime video of himself stabbing Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) in the neck.

At the same time, the GOP rank and file is having a heated debate about punishing the 13 centrist Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Nevermind that DONALD TRUMP pined for a big bipartisan win like this when he was in office. Fringe members like Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) are pushing to strip the “traitors” of their committee assignments. She posted their phone numbers online, leading to harassing calls and at least one death threat.

The conversation that dominated Tuesday’s GOP Conference meeting wasn’t about Gosar’s video, but whether to boot moderate Rep. JOHN KATKO (R-N.Y.) from his position as House Homeland Security ranking member for backing BIF.

HOW THE VOTE WILL GO DOWN: A senior House GOP aide tells us leadership is confident that not many Republicans will side with Democrats in booting Gosar from his committee assignments — the exceptions being Reps. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) and ADAM KINZINGER (R-Ill.).

Here’s why:

1) An apology (to his colleagues, but not AOC): Leaders have told members that the video was posted by Gosar’s staff, not him, and that he deleted it when he found out. Publicly, Gosar has defended the video, saying it was “nothing hateful” and that the left “mischaracterized” his intentions. But at the Republican Conference meeting Tuesday, we’re told, Gosar expressed regret and said that he didn’t mean to promote violence. (This begs the question why Gosar hasn’t said this publicly or apologized directly to AOC, who regularly receives death threats.)

2) Accusations of Dems overstepping: GOP sources say Democrats might have gotten more support from Republicans had they moved to rebuke Gosar and stopped there. But even moderate Republicans think kicking him off the Oversight and Natural Resources committees is too much. There’s also a concern among moderate members about having to vote to rebuke every crazy thing their colleagues say, which these days, they argue, is a lot.

3) Help from Katko: We’re told that Katko stood up in conference Tuesday and said he didn’t plan to vote with Democrats on the punishment. After his support for BIF and, in January, his vote to impeach Trump, Katko’s announcement could (though probably won’t) help his fragile standing with the GOP’s right flank. But more importantly, it also might make other moderates think twice about punishing Gosar.

MCCARTHY’S BALANCING ACT — You can’t watch all this drama without also asking how this plays into House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY’s bid for speaker. On Tuesday night, MTG told reporters that if McCarthy doesn’t punish Republicans who voted for BIF, she might not back him for the top post if Republicans retake the House next year. On the other side, moderate members are frustrated that he hasn’t done more to rein in the far-right members coming after them.

Some House Republicans say privately that McCarthy is doing a poor job of balancing his speakership ambitions with his job as leader, and that it could come back to bite him. One noted that PAUL RYAN used to say that leadership is supposed to be “the heat shield” for members, but McCarthy is allowing moderates to get walloped by crazies. (Of course, we know how Ryan’s attempt to manage Trump’s rise within his conference turned out. No one’s saying this is easy stuff.)

“He is straddling the fence,” a House Republican member told us. “When you straddle the fence, you better hope it’s not a barbed wire fence.”

But another senior Republican aide argued that these parallel situations benefit McCarthy. By warning moderate members against censuring Gosar at the same time he’s telling Trump mini-mes that “now is not the time” to strip moderates of their committee assignments, this person said, McCarthy gets to position himself as a unifier.

Democrats, for their part, are disgusted with what they say is McCarthy’s lack of leadership and moral compass. “What Paul Gosar did is both despicable and beneath the office that he holds,” Oversight Chair CAROLYN MALONEY (D-N.Y.) told Playbook on Tuesday night. “Leader McCarthy won’t take responsibility for the actions of the actions of his caucus … This is a big deal. We saw that some of the Republican supporters will act on provocations of violence.” Our Congress team has more on the saga here