Jan 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats tweak deepfake rule to court GOP

Rep. Paul Gosar is seen speaking during a news conference.
Rep. Paul Gosar. Photo: Paul Morigi/WireImage

House Democrats today presented a rules package giving the Ethics Committee a year to recommend how it will deal with members who disseminate false and unverified content on social media.

Why it matters: The Democrat-led Rules Committee changed its rules package after Republicans claimed an original proposal to make it an ethics violation for disseminating so-called deepfakes would infringe on their First Amendment rights. The package was being voted on today.

The backstory: Last year, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) posted a manipulated photo on Twitter purporting to show President Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Obama and Rouhani never met in person.

  • The real photo was taken in 2011, and it showed Obama shaking hands with then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
  • President Trump also shared a fake video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Facebook and Twitter purporting to show her slurring her words during a news conference.

Republicans publicly criticized the rule after House Democrats delivered a progressive rules package to launch the 117th Congress packed with ways to advance diversity and inclusion.

  • For the first time, it proposed a rule making it an ethics violation for members to disseminate unverified content. That rule was tweaked after the GOP complaints.
  • Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said in a statement issued Saturday the rule was "rife with the possibility of abuse and likely to be enforced in a way that creates a double standard between the majority and minority."
  • And during a speech to present Nancy Pelosi as speaker Sunday night, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy chimed in with his own critique.
  • “They would penalize any member who shares news or views that liberals and their allies in the media deem 'fake,'" McCarthy said. "They actually make it an ethics violation — which is usually reserved for such unbecoming conduct as bribery and corruption."

What they’re saying: House Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said in prepared remarks: “I’ll note that we initially planned to go even further — amending our Code of Conduct with this rules package — but we heard some of our colleagues’ concerns. We agreed to take a little more time to get the language just right.”

Editor's note: This post has been corrected to reflect that the manipulated photo Gosar posted on Twitter was of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (not Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani).

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