WASHINGTON – A group of progressive Democrats on Wednesday ratcheted up pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to punish firebrand conservative Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, whose recent comments likening a Muslim member of Congress to a bomb-carrying terrorist they decried as a “bigoted” incitement to violence that puts “an entire group of Americans” in danger.
“Inaction is to be complicit in Islamophobia,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat who is sponsoring a resolution to strip Boebert of her committee assignments. “Without accountability, we embolden further action."
A politics of outrage has thrived in the House Republican conference in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, when supporters of Donald Trump fought police in brutal hand-to-hand combat as they tried to stop Congress from certifying the outcome of the 2020 election.
But rather than discipline members of their conference who are making incendiary comments, Republicans leaders have taken a hands-off approach as they chart a course to retaking the majority with the help of Trump's most ardent supporters. Democrats have tried to police the behavior on their own, and have already this year stripped Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia of their committee assignments.
When it comes to Boebert, however, Pelosi has urged restraint, arguing that punishment will only give her the attention — and fundraising boost — that she seeks.
“I don’t feel like talking about what the Republicans aren’t doing, or are doing, about the disgraceful, unacceptable behavior of their members,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday, adding that ”the responsibility is on them" to do something.
The approach has led to rising frustrations, particularly among progressive allies of Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota congresswoman whom Boebert has repeatedly targeted with her verbal attacks.
They argue that the rhetoric adopted by conservatives, including those in Congress, can have real-world consequences while giving license to discriminate. Omar says her office has reported hundreds of death threats to authorities, many of which are made after she's been subject to a conservative attack. Other Democrats frequently singled out by Republicans, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have reported spending large sums on their security.
“This shouldn't need a press conference. We shouldn't be gathered here today. We shouldn’t have to be asking for the bare minimum of protection and respect for our colleague.” said Ocasio-Cortez, who was recently depicted being killed by Gosar in an animated video the congressman posted to Twitter. Gosar was censured and stripped of his committee assignments as punishment.
Boebert was cavalier when asked about the Democrats' press conference.
“I am aware that on Wednesday at 2pm in studio A, some people did something,” she said in a one-sentence statement, which referenced the time and location of the press conference calling for her punishment.
While Pelosi has been mum about whether she will punish Boebert, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the No. 5 Democrat, predicted Wednesday that “at some point, the House as a whole is going to have to act.”
“It would be a constructive thing if my friends on the other side of the aisle would handle their own business in terms of the out-of-control members," said Jeffries of New York, who is the Democratic caucus chairman. “But we haven’t seen that level of accountability so far."
The uproar over Boebert's remarks erupted late last month, when the first of two videos surfaced in which she compares Omar to a terrorist. Boebert has also repeatedly referred to Omar as belonging to a “jihad squad,” as well as “black-hearted” and “evil.”
In one of the videos, Boebert claimed that a Capitol Police officer approached her with “fret on his face” shortly before she stepped aboard a House elevator and the doors closed.
“I look to my left and there she is — Ilhan Omar. And I said: ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine,’” Boebert says with a laugh, an apparent reference to her not carrying a suicide bomb.
In another video, which was taken at a Staten Island, New York, fundraiser in September, she offers a different take on the story, this time claiming that she made the backpack remark about Omar after entering an elevator with a worried junior staffer.
Omar says neither of the incidents ever occurred.
Republicans are unlikely to face lasting consequences if Republicans retake the majority during next year's elections. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to become speaker, has floated the possibility that anyone punished by Democrats could get a promotion.
“They may have other committee assignments. They may have better committee assignments,” he said last month of Gosar and Greene, who was punished for a broad spectrum of troubling behavior that included her endorsement of calls to assassinate prominent Democrats.