Liberals ramp up pressure on Pelosi to discipline Boebert
House liberals are escalating their campaign to punish Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) for recent Islamophobic remarks targeting a Muslim colleague, warning Democratic leaders that a failure to do so will condone bigotry and threaten the safety of minorities across the country.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her Democratic leadership team had moved quickly earlier in the year to discipline Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) for promoting violent rhetoric and imagery against Democratic lawmakers.
But they're treading more carefully in the case of Boebert, who stirred a firestorm of controversy after a video emerged last month in which she suggested Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of three Muslims in Congress, must be a suicide bomber because of her faith.
Omar's liberal allies are racing to her defense, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced a resolution this week calling for Boebert to be removed from her committee assignments - the same punishment applied to Greene and Gosar.
"We have a responsibility to show this country that bigotry is unacceptable," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said during a Wednesday press conference urging party leaders to consider the resolution.
Others were even more direct.
"We cannot normalize this rhetoric," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). "And if we do not act accordingly - if leadership does not act accordingly - we are condoning that behavior, not just here in Congress, but we are sending the message across the country and around the world that anti-Muslim hate is OK."
The liberals are in talks with Pelosi and other Democratic leaders over how to proceed, but the Speaker has so far declined to endorse Pressley's proposal, nor has she indicated what alternative measures she might be considering.
"When I'm ready to announce that, I'll let you know," she said Wednesday.
Pressley on the same day downplayed any significant disagreements with leadership, saying she's "confident that we will reach a resolution resulting in accountability."
Yet the reluctance to move immediately has highlighted the dilemma facing Pelosi and party leaders. On one hand, they're seeking to condemn Boebert's remarks in the strongest terms, thereby protecting the institution and appeasing the liberals. On the other, they're being careful not to anger vulnerable moderates wary of voting on such an explosive topic as Islamophobia heading into the midterm elections.
They're also aiming to keep the maximum pressure on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other GOP leaders - who have repeatedly refused even to denounce Boebert's bigoted remarks - to discipline Boebert unilaterally. Some McCarthy critics have warned that Democratic votes to discipline the violent and racist remarks of Republican lawmakers have let GOP leaders too easily off the hook.
Additionally, there are lingering Democratic concerns that stripping yet another controversial member of her committee assignments would set the stage for Republicans to respond in kind if they win back control of the House in 2023 - a threat already being lobbed by GOP leaders.
All of those possible issues, however, have been dismissed by the liberals charging ahead this week with Pressley's resolution. And some are losing patience.
"St. Louis and I did not come to Congress to watch bigots parade around our workplace abusing and harassing our colleagues," said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.). "It is time for Democratic leadership to act; bring our resolution to the House floor for a vote."
"We can't act in one case, but then when it comes to Islamophobia, say, 'This doesn't merit action,'" echoed Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Words like "toxic," "dangerous," and "a danger to this country" were used in the lengthy briefing to describe Boebert by various progressives in the House.
Several members pointed to the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion as reason enough for sharp action to be taken against the Colorado Republican.
At one juncture, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a liberal congresswoman who, like Omar, is Muslim, burst into tears when considering how Boebert's comments could impact faith communities in areas like her native Michigan.
"You called a colleague a suicide bomber, you called her a terrorist," Tlaib said, appearing to be directing her comments toward her conservative colleague from afar.
And Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who received death threats for years after opposing the war in Afghanistan, warned of the physical dangers if bigotry goes unchecked.
"Death threats," she said, "can lead to death."
Boebert has roundly rejected the idea that she was promoting violence, and on Twitter she offered an apology "to anyone in the Muslim community I offended." But the apology was dismissed by Omar as insincere. And more recently Boebert has gone back to attacking the Minnesota Democrat
"It's disheartening to see someone who hates America serving in the United States of Representatives," Boebert said last week in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News.
Omar, who wears a traditional head covering known as a hijab, is widely targeted for her religion, occasionally even by her own colleagues on Capitol Hill. She has sustained multiple threats and personal attacks from far-right individuals and has called for additional security measures to be taken to keep her safe.
Those scare tactics were particularly prevalent during the Trump years, when the former president often instigated harsh or dangerous rhetoric against representatives of color, including the predominantly female "squad." But even after he left office, and including after the attempt to overthrow the government on Jan. 6, Islamophobia has continued to permeate the national discourse.
Progressives suggested Boebert's comments were the latest iteration of that. As they called for stricter action to be taken, they simultaneously warned about what could happen if hate-filled words from elected officials in Washington were not condemned and met with subsequent action.
"When we inconsistently apply consequences to bigotry, we invite more people to test these boundaries," said Ocasio-Cortez.
Despite the delay in moving on any disciplinary measure, some Democratic leaders are already predicting that some form of action is inevitable.
"It is my expectation that Lauren Boebert is going to be held accountable," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "At some point I think the House as a whole is going to have to act."