Oct 26, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Lawmakers scramble to punish each other as House returns to business

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and George Santos. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

With a House speaker now in place and the chamber able to pass legislation for the first time in weeks, lawmakers are using the opportunity to introduce long-awaited measures to censure and expel one another.

Why it matters: It's a manifestation of the growing bitterness between the two parties in Congress that only grew more tense during the speaker vacancy and the escalating Israel-Hamas war.

Driving the news: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Thursday introduced a motion to force a vote on censuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) for her Israel criticism and her involvement in a House office building protest last week that called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

  • Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) retaliated by introducing the same motion on a resolution to censure Greene for five years' worth of inflammatory comments, including some allegedly anti-Semitic remarks.
  • Both measures must receive a vote by early next week.

Zoom in: Greene's resolution is unlikely to get bipartisan support even from the moderate, pro-Israel Democrats who despise Tlaib's views on the conflict, according to multiple Democratic aides.

  • Greene's own history of alleged antisemitism and her resolution's ironic reference to the ceasefire protest as an "insurrection" are likely to undermine any chance of significant Democratic support.
  • "Way too easy for Democrats to vote against it now. If a normal person did it, we'd be in a tough spot," said one aide, adding that moderate Republicans "can't really attack us because ... they're siding with MTG."

The big picture: The 118th Congress was already suffering from severe political polarization — but the removal of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) appears to have brought out a new level of partisan bad blood.

  • Democrats' decision to vote uniformly to remove McCarthy inflamed tensions between moderates across the aisle and even threatened to tear apart the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
  • Democrats were also dismayed that all Republicans, including many moderates, voted to elect Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) as speaker despite his hardline views on abortion and gay marriage, as well as his deep involvement in efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Yes, but: One vote the House will take next week is not purely partisan — a GOP-led resolution to expel George Santos (R-N.Y.) from Congress over the federal charges he faces and the many lies he told on the campaign trail.

  • That measure was forced to a vote on Thursday by Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-N.Y.) and other vulnerable New York freshmen fed up with Santos' continued presence and the political liability he presents.

What we're watching: If members want to keep the tit-for-tat going, there is no shortage of censure resolutions that can be dusted off.

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) introduced a resolution in July to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), first reported by Axios, for linking to a website in his weekly newsletter that has posted holocaust denial.
  • Also in July, Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) introduced a resolution to censure Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) for since-retracted comments calling Israel a "racist state."
  • Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), in turn, introduced a resolution to censure Ogles over reports that he fabricated elements of his resume on the 2022 campaign trail.
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) also introduced a resolution in June to censure Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) for his conduct as chair of the Jan. 6 committee last Congress.

There are also GOP resolutions to censure and expel Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who pleaded guilty Thursday to pulling a House office building fire alarm when there wasn't an emergency.

  • A source involved in the Bowman censure resolution told Axios they don't plan to introduce a privileged motion and hope to have a vote on it with GOP leadership backing — though timing is up in the air.
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