The House late Wednesday rejected an effort to censure Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, scrapping a Republican attempt to condemn the only Palestinian-American in Congress over her recent rhetoric around the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
A measure to move forward with a censure resolution of Tlaib, a punishment one step below expulsion from the House, was dismissed with broad bipartisan support as both parties raised concerns about violating First Amendment rights.
A Democratic effort to in turn censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who had sponsored the Tlaib resolution, was called off in response.
The scheduled votes were among the House's first acts of business after a nearly month-long gridlock caused by the removal of Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California as speaker.
The agenda of retribution reflects the growing divisiveness of the House, where severe forms of punishment that had long been viewed as an option of last resort, to be triggered only for the most egregious wrongdoing, are quickly becoming routine, often wielded in strikingly partisan ways. While the censure itself carries no practical effect, it leaves a historic footnote that marks a lawmaker’s career.
Greene introduced a censure resolution last week against Tlaib, one of two Muslims in Congress. The resolution accuses Tlaib of “antisemitic activity” after she voiced concern over America's continued role in supplying arms to Israel as it engages in a bloody battle with Hamas following Hamas' deadly Oct. 7 surprise attack.
Greene also falsely accused Tlaib of “leading an insurrection" in the Capitol complex when she participated in a pro-Gaza rally organized by Jewish advocacy groups last month.
Tlaib called Greene's resolution "unhinged" and said it's "deeply Islamophobic and attacks peaceful Jewish anti-war advocates."
In response to Greene's resolution, House Democrats, led by Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont, introduced a resolution censuring Greene for what they called her record of "racist rhetoric and conspiracy theories." Balint said Greene's resolution to censure Tlaib "is an overt Islamophobic attack on the only Palestinian-American member of Congress."
Greene has not commented on the resolution to censure her but criticized the dozens of Republicans who voted against moving the Tlaib measure forward.
The vote on Wednesday evening comes as the chamber returns to normal legislative business for the first time in weeks. The abrupt ouster of McCarthy on Oct. 4 brought the House to a standstill, pausing legislative work on the floor, as Republicans struggled over who should replace him.
Now that Speaker Mike Johnson is in charge of the House, following his election to the top position last week, he inherits one of the problems that often afflicted McCarthy: difficulty controlling what happens on the House floor.
Both of the censure resolutions are "privileged," which is a procedural tool lawmakers can use to bypass leadership and committees and force votes in the House. The stigma around privileged resolutions has eroded, leading more lawmakers to deploy the tactic.
A group of Republicans from New York, for instance, forced a separate vote on whether to expel indicted Rep. George Santos from the House. Santos, a fellow New York Republican, is facing federal prosecution on several charges and has pleaded not guilty. Late Wednesday, the House voted against expelling Santos.
If the censure resolutions had passed, Greene and Tlaib would have joined a small but growing group of lawmakers who have been censured in the last 20 years.
In June, Republicans voted to censure Democrat Adam Schiff of California for comments he made several years ago about investigations into then-President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. When the House was under Democratic control, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona was censured in 2021 for tweeting an animated video that depicted him striking Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York with a sword. And Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York was censured in 2010 over serious financial and campaign misconduct.
The House in recent years has also sought to punish members for their words and actions by removing them from their respective committee assignments.
Earlier this year, the House stripped Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who's the other Muslim member of Congress, from her committee assignment on Foreign Affairs for her rhetoric about Israel. And in 2021, Democrats in the majority punished Greene, holding a vote that stripped her of all of her committee assignments for spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories.
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