As member after member of the House Republican caucus took the dais Wednesday to speak during debate over whether to censure fellow Rep. Paul Gosar, the topic of conversation quickly turned from what the Arizona Republican did — post an anime video in which an animated version of himself brutally murdered Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — to all the ways a conservative majority would retaliate against Democrats and reward its own members who had stood strong in the face of harsh public criticism.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the likely future House speaker if Republicans retake the majority next year, doubled down on the us-versus-them rhetoric Thursday during a press conference — even adding at one point that he planned to reinstate the committee assignments of both Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who was stripped of hers earlier this year after similarly endorsing violence against Democratic politicians. McCarthy even suggested he might reward the right-wing duo with better assignments for their refusal to apologize or equivocate.
"They'll have committees," McCarthy vowed. "The committee assignment they have now, they may have other committee assignments, they may have better committee assignments."
Another idea floated by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Thursday was to elect Donald Trump as speaker of the House — which is not outside the realm of possibility, since the speaker doesn't have to be an elected member of Congress. (Though all of them have been so far.) Meadows didn't even bother framing that as a good idea for the country or the House — just as a way to seek revenge against Democrats.
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"You talk about melting down," he said during an appearance on Steve Bannon's "War Room" podcast. "I mean, people would go crazy!"
These statements underline a troubling trend for those invested in a functioning American democracy — top-level Republicans are increasingly embracing a scorched-earth brand of opposition-based politics, in which Democrats are an enemy to be fought and defeated, rather than a governing partner with competing ideas and proposals.
That became immediately apparent during a conspiratorial tirade delivered Wednesday by Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who said on the House floor that Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant and Minnesota Democrat, was part of a "jihad squad," while implying that Omar had married her own brother and supported terrorism against the United States.
Even the House's so-called "moderates" appeared to endorse this behavior — Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota was quoted as saying threats of violence are something that all members of Congress will have to get used to — even if those threats are directed by fellow members. "Unfortunately, in the world we're in right now, we all get death threats, no matter what the issue is," he said.
None of this is new, even if Republican threats of revenge after a potential 2022 victory reached a fever pitch this week.
Boebert herself threatened to call for "politically motivated investigations" last week in response to the news that former Trump adviser Steve Bannon had been indicted for contempt of Congress after refusing to cooperate with a subpoena from the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
"Now that Democrats have started these politically-motivated indictments for Contempt of Congress, I look forward to seeing their reactions when we keep that same energy as we take back the House next year!'" she wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio echoed the threat: "There are a lot of Republicans eager to hear testimony from [White House chief of staff] Ron Klain and [national security adviser] Jake Sullivan when we take back the House."
McCarthy even made vague threats of retaliation against telecommunications companies who were reportedly cooperating with the House select committee's request for documents, which members have said could shine a light on possible coordination between members of Congress and the organizers of the Jan. 6 rally preceding the deadly Capitol riot.
"If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law," he wrote in a statement.
And Rep. Jim Banks, an Indiana Republican who was appointed to serve on the Jan. 6 committee before being blocked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi over his pledge to obstruct the group's investigation, promised to strip each member of their own assignments in much the same way Gosar and Greene had been treated.
"When we win back the majority next year, we have a duty as Republicans to hold every member of this committee accountable for this abuse of power, for stepping over the line, by preventing them from being in positions of authority," Banks said during an appearance on Fox News.
So far, it does not appear that Democrats in Congress are changing their approach in response to these threats.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., described McCarthy's threats against telecom companies as "treasonous."
When asked whether the Gosar vote could put prominent Democrats in jeopardy of losing their committee assignments come 2023, Pelosi responded: "Democrats don't threaten the lives of other members."
Whether that will save them from retribution remains to be seen.