MA. Representative Ayanna Pressley is filing a resolution to strip Cong. Lauren Boebert of Colorado of her committee assignments as punishment for Boebert’s anti-Muslim slurs against Cong. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. With time ticking down on more serious matters, debating this issue now is not only a waste of time and a fundraising trap, but, if successful, it would set a dangerous precedent. Remember, Congress is not a normal workplace. Verbal harassment and vicious language punishable elsewhere is not only tolerated, but is baked into the job description however much we might wish otherwise. So responses to reprehensible conduct unbecoming to the office must be carefully calibrated.
Cong. Omar is not a terrorist, definitely not a suicide bomber, as Boebert, smirkingly, would have us believe. Omar is a radical left-wing back-bencher from a safe, overwhelmingly Democratic district in Minneapolis. She is perhaps most noteworthy for the anti-Semitic tropes she embraces, her uncompromising opposition to key parts of the Biden agenda, and her naive misunderstanding of how to legislate in a deeply divided legislative body. Omar dismisses all her critics as right-wing Islamophobes and racists, language that fits nicely into the headline grabbing insult spirals that have replaced nuanced lawmaking and discourse. But credible threats against her life should be a legitimate matter of concern, not fodder for campaign fundraising humor.
For all of her flaws, Omar is no Lauren Boebert. There should be no false equivalencies here. Notwithstanding media hype about the so-called “Squad” of sisters, they are penny-ante players when matched up against the dangerously toxic cabal of Louis Gomert ( R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene ( R-GA) and Lauren Boebert. Boebert, who the Denver Post reminds us has an “unusually long” rap sheet of disorderly conduct, assault and criminal mischief, is also under investigation for her alleged role on Insurrection Eve. But she has not indulged in the same level of incendiary comments, actions and apparent support of violence against Democrats as did Gosar and Greene, who lost their committee assignments. (Gosar, who posted an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword, was also censured.) But remember how stripping committee assignments, especially in the case of Greene, became a GOP fundraising bonanza.
Clearly, Boebert’s hate speech should not be tolerated. As the Denver Post apologized on behalf of Boebert: “Making a joke about suicide bombers and suggesting that a congresswoman is a threat to safety and security because she is a Muslim is both racist and a form of religious bigotry. “
But before the House rushes to adopt Pressley’s resolution, it should consider reprimanding or censuring Boebert, rather than stripping her of her committee assignments. Clearly, action against her would be better taken by her own Republican caucus and, afterward, by the voters in her Colorado district. That’s what happened to white supremacist and former Iowa Congressman Steve King. In Boebert’s case this seems unlikely.
Yet, if the Pressley resolution is passed and becomes the norm, consider what could happen if/when the Republicans regain control of the House. What would they consider an actionable transgression? Would they declare pro-choice Representatives to be baby killers and strip them all of their committee assignments? Wouldn’t that unfairly disenfranchise their constituents because of a policy position? What other positions would an unbridled House led by Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan or (optimally, less likely) Donald Trump use to dis-empower Democratic officials?
Robust discourse optimally should exist within agreed-upon parameters. Over history, two dozen Representatives have been censured, and another dozen reprimanded. Among the reasons were campaign finance violations, sexual misconduct, and “unparliamentary language. ” As Chris Truax wrote in The Bulwark newsletter, verbal harassment is a way of life in the Congress. And, if the 700,000 constituents in Boebert’s 3rd district are to lose their representation on Congressional budget and natural resources committees, that should be decided by Boebert’s caucus not by the Democrats. Today’s majority party can become the voice of the unheard as soon as a year from now.