Many members of the House of Representatives have stated in recent days that they work in a poisonous atmosphere, rife with harsh confrontations, threats, and concerns about what the degradation of decorum in the chamber would mean for a body that has yet to heal 10 months after the Capitol Hill riot.
In conversations with more than a dozen members, Democrats and some Republicans who say things are as terrible as they’ve ever been, with little indication of things improving anytime soon, and the worries and concerns are coming not only from members, but also from their families.
Democrats and two Republicans voted last week to condemn Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, for sharing an animated video portraying the murder of fellow member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York. Gosar first removed the video, but he reposted another tweet including the video barely an hour after receiving the House’s highest form of punishment.
As he accepted his penalty in the House well, he was besieged by colleagues who rushed to his defense. His leadership never came to the floor to chastise him, instead assaulting the Democratic process.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, defended Gosar on the House floor by referring to some of her progressive Democratic colleagues as a “Jihad squad,” a characterization she justified on Friday.
“It is shocking to me that Leader McCarthy would stand for eight and a half hours spewing disinformation about a bill that is for the American people and yet not speak a word about the atrocity of his own member putting out a video that glorifies the murder of a colleague and threatens violence against the President of the United States,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania. “I don’t know where the next basement is.”
It’s all part of the issue that members are experiencing in the House right now, and some have chosen to resign rather than put up with more venomous conduct.
Metal detectors are still stationed at every entrance on the edges of the House chamber, a reminder of the ongoing anxieties. In addition, an investigation into the core cause of the January 6 assault has become political, with most Republicans opposing it. Some have even challenged the events of that day, as if they were actually as bad as it was. It is a daily reminder for members about the state of their work environment.
“January 6th made things so much worse. I was on the floor that day. That was a forever life-changing moment on a personal level, but it was also a moment that changed Congress,” Rep. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat from Illinois, told CNN. “It started with the incessant lies that weren’t challenged and were amplified to January 6th to a member of Congress threatening lives of friends and colleagues.”
During an interview with Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat from California, Garamendi’s wife Patricia could be heard in the background agreeing with her husband that the threats were as serious as they had ever been. Patricia Garamendi, who works closely with other congressional wives on events and advises them on how to navigate Congress, consented to share their tale. She said it’s the worst period she can recall for members’ wives, who are concerned for their whole family, not just their member of Congress.
“It took away a lot of the fun. Service is hard. Travel is hard and the issues are hard, but when you are worried about your family, it has been difficult,” she said. “I mean some kids are being escorted to school.”
And those are just the security risks. A huge struggle over Covid-19 has further widened the schisms. A few conservative members often flout the House Speaker’s mask order, racking up hundreds of dollars in penalties, while others openly declare they aren’t being immunized.
Bustos remarked on the steps of the US House on Friday that all of the hatred and misinformation influenced her choice not to seek for reelection.
“My interns are down there,” she pointed. “I always write them five pieces of advice and one of those is ‘don’t take things personally.’ I’ve tried to live that in politics. This, you can’t help but take personally. All of this has contributed to the fact that I’m not running again. I want to love what I do. I want to love who I work with. I want to respect the people I work with and that has been compromised in ways that I hope can be repaired at some point, but right now I do not feel like I can repair.”
Some of the members’ uneasiness derives from heated arguments with the other party, while others claim the poison spiral has spread to how members of the same party interact with one another. For months, Democratic progressives and moderates struggled with how to approve both a bipartisan infrastructure measure and a Democrat-only bill to extend the social safety net. However, internal squabbles posed a danger to both proposals and culminated in sometimes public and harsh personal insults.
“Toxic is spot-on,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Florida, said. “I think there is plenty of Dem-on-Dem violence as well as Republican and Democratic divisions. I think it is not conducive to a healthy legislative environment for colleagues to make these debates both so personal and caustic.”
In a series of interviews with Republicans, several minimized the splits openly or criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for creating the wrong tone when she announced that following the insurgency, all members would have to go through metal screenings to access to the House floor.
“I believe it is a consolidation of power in the Speaker’s office in the House and an abuse of power by the Speaker because she has one-party control and she is completely shutting down the voices of the minority and hiding behind Covid to accomplish it,” stated Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, a Republican from Washington state.
Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas who argued for certifying the electoral college results before of January 6, said that part of the issue is that members have not moved on from January 6th.
“People here need to get thicker skin,” Roy said. “At some point here, you gotta let some things roll.”
When asked whether he included the insurgency in his list of things to “let roll,” Roy stated, “people here have got to get thicker skin about representing the people and doing their job and not making everything personal on the floor of the House.”
However, the threats are quite personal for certain people.
“Congressman Boebert referred to us as the ‘Jihad squad’ on the House floor. What that does is it empowers and inspires people who want to do us harm, to actually go and do that harm. She is on the House floor spewing ‘Jihad squad,’ ” Rep. Jamaal Bowman said. “I feel safe, but it is incredibly concerning that she is speaking this way and we have to respond to that in some way.”
Ocasio-Cortez, the subject of Gosar’s animated film, told CNN last week that it is sometimes difficult to separate the political from the personal, despite her efforts to form ties with certain Republicans.
“It is not just because they dislike me as a person. In fact, I have had many a Republican come to me on the House floor and say ‘I tell folks back home that while I don’t agree with you, I think you are a quite kind person.’ I have had Republicans come up to me after the 6th, one of them even weeping and with guilt over what happened,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “So for some … publicly, this is a performance. But it is also personal because I cannot separate myself from my gender, I cannot separate myself of how I was born, so their hatred of non-White people, their hatred of women is a hatred of me.”
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