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Censure is fast becoming a badge of honor for GOP Congress

Hot on the heels of Rep. Paul Gosar’s official rebuke, Rep. Lauren Boebert might be next. It remains unclear, though, whether she sees censure as punishment or power move.

Censure is fast becoming a badge of honor for GOP Congress
[Source Images: Bloomberg/Contributor/Getty]

Politicians have always been performers, adjusting their message and method, depending on the audience. Recently, however, GOP politicians have become more like performance artists.

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Take, for instance, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert. A proprietor of a gun-themed restaurant before joining Congress back in January, Boebert’s Twitter profile picture features her rocking a parody of AOC’s Tax the Rich dress that instead reads “Let’s Go Brandon,” an anti-Biden meme that lets its users curse the president without saying a naughty word. Boebert belongs to the post-Trump breed of trolliticians whose every utterance seems designed to trigger or validate, depending on one’s ideology. Over Thanksgiving, she landed in hot water by suggesting that Democratic colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar, who is Muslim, has designs on suicide-bombing the Capitol. But can Boebert really be said to have “landed in hot water” if drawing herself a warm bath was precisely what she wanted?

According to Politico, Boebert may soon become the third House Republican in 2021 to be officially rebuked by Congress. If so, she would follow Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was stripped of committee assignment in February, partly for directing violent insinuations toward her Dem colleagues, and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, who lost his committee assignments and was censured earlier this month after tweeting a video depicting himself murdering New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Unlike her two predecessors, Boebert quickly apologized once her remarks created a stir, prompting Greene to tweet, “If Democrats move against @laurenboebert, who apologized, they’ll only help Lauren and reveal their true nature.”

I never thought I’d say this, but Jewish Space Laser conspiracist Marjorie Taylor Greene is right. Or half-right, anyway. The only way Dems can move against Boebert without helping her, along with all her performance-artist peers, is to resolve the situation by booting Boebert.

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In most offices across the country, any employee who publicly painted a colleague as a suicide-bombing risk would no longer be an employee of that company. No logical counterpoint would exempt Congress from following those rules either. If anything, members of Congress should be held to a higher standard. Instead, the U.S. government relies on an antiquated honor system in which each party is expected to handle such matters internally. On the left, the system mostly works, with Andrew Cuomo reluctantly self-immolating last summer, nearly four years after Al Franken did the same. But while Republicans are meant to be disgusted enough by a member’s actions to push him or her to resign, they never seem up to the task. (Only two GOP reps voted to censure Gosar, for instance, and both had already been virtually excommunicated from the party earlier this year.)

Left to their own devices, Republicans in hot water tend to follow the Trumpy playbook of never apologizing for anything, like Greene, or at least doubling down when the apology goes sideways, as Boebert did after a Monday afternoon phone call with Omar.

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The punishments Congress currently has at its disposal to pick up the slack—censure and stripping committee assignments—are not merely inadequate slaps on the wrist, they’re such inadequate slaps on the wrist that they ultimately help those they’re meant to punish.

If a politician’s job appears to consist entirely of riling up constituents, launching a podcast, and occasionally voting, all that losing committee assignments does is free up more time to be publicly furious at Emperor Fauci or whatever. It’s not a real repercussion if there’s no real downside. Rather, it’s like a father punishing his delinquent hacker son by grounding him.

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As for the penalty of censure, in the GOP’s current anti-woke climate, it’s practically a badge of honor. Grandstanding against cancel culture has become a genre of conservative politics unto itself in 2021. Prominent right-wing politicians spent the spring competing over who could scream loudest about the unfair treatment of Dr. Seuss, while Josh Hawley complained to every news outlet who would listen about how he’d been silenced. The most enviable person to be in conservative politics is someone “they” don’t want you to hear from; someone hellbent on telling it like it is, come what may. To be able to bear that distinction while remaining in a position of political power is a license to print money.

It certainly worked out well for Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose rebuke only resulted in a deluge of fundraising and publicity hits.

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No safeguards currently exist to stop further Trump-emulating GOP Congress members from one-upping each other in vile displays against their Democratic colleagues. Worse still, the more that Dems use the current set of penalties—rather than the one-strike-and-you’re-out mode of a typical American workplace—the more the process feels like a time suck and the more Dems look like hall monitors.

If they can’t figure out a firmer way to rebuke these trolls, “hall monitor” is the performance they are doomed to play for the duration of their time as the majority party.

And there will be scant demand for an encore.

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