In Congress, a question looms: What to do about Lauren Boebert

Listen Now
4min 35sec
House Justice
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., puts on a mask after a reminder from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

There’s a question hanging over the U.S. House of Representatives as it returns this week: Will Democratic leaders bring up a resolution that removes Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert from her committee assignments over her Islamophobic comments?

As they consider how to answer, Democratic leaders have to weigh the precedent they’re setting, and the potential of actually generating more support for controversial conservatives like Boebert. 

Many Democrats have denounced Boebert’s remarks, which have centered around jokes and attacks against Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Those critics include Rep. Diana DeGette, the dean of the Colorado congressional delegation.

“Her comments were hateful and they were not remotely of normal behavior,” she said of Boebert’s suggestion that Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota could be a terrorist bomber.

But DeGette and other Democrats are also frustrated that the responsibility for holding the conservative firebrand accountable — just like they did with two other Republicans previously this year for their hateful words or threatening actions — falls on them.

“I think it’s Kevin McCarthy’s job as the Republican leader to decide what he’s going to do about this behavior from Congresswoman Boebert,” DeGette said, “(as well as) other members of the Republican caucus who are just flaming the fire of racism and zealotry.”

While some Republicans have denounced Boebert’s rhetoric, McCarthy has not taken any action, arguing that Boebert has apologized sufficiently.

This has frustrated progressives in the House, who sponsored a resolution last week to remove Boebert from her committee assignments.

“This is about accountability,” said Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who introduced the measure. “This is about protecting the integrity of the House Of Representatives and about living up to the very values that we espouse and claim to represent.”

Colorado lawmakers divided

Two Colorado Representatives have signed on to the resolution — Joe Neguse and Jason Crow.

Crow, who is best known for his national security credentials and represents the most diverse congressional district in the state, said the type of language Boebert has used repeatedly, and — in his view — without remorse, is unacceptable.

“They don’t represent the values of Colorado. They don’t represent the values of this country,” he said.

Boebert has been uncharacteristically quiet about the resolution. On the day it was introduced she said in a statement that she was aware “some people did something,” but beyond that, has not commented on social media or to the press.

Colorado’s other Republican congress members oppose the idea of taking away her committee assignments. 

“There have been inappropriate actions on both sides and this is a one-sided remedy and I don’t like it,” Rep. Ken Buck said.

Rep. Doug Lamborn believes it should be up to Republicans to address problems with their members.

“This is one of those issues I want to keep it in house, in the family so to speak, and talk about it behind closed doors,” he said.

Boebert’s office did not make her available for this story.

Omar and Boebert have spoken, but have not mended any fences

Despite an early apology via tweet to anyone in the Muslim community offended by her comment about Omar, the tension and the rhetoric continue. A telephone call between the two lawmakers meant to calm the situation did not go well.

“She kept asking for a public apology,” Boebert said in an Instagram video shortly after the call. “So I told Ilhan Omar that she should make a public apology for her anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric.”

Omar has been called out in the past by Democrats for anti-Semitic statements. She apologized and was not removed from her committees — a punishment Boebert, ironically, called for via tweet in June.

Omar told the press that whenever her Republican colleagues make these types of broad accusations against her, the threats against her increase.

She recently played an expletive-laden voicemail for reporters, to illustrate the kinds of calls she gets.

“You f—king Muslim piece of shit, you jihadist,” a man says on the anonymous recording. “We know what you are. You’re a f—king traitor. You will not live much longer you b—.”

Boebert has also received death threats, according to her spokesman Ben Stout, who estimated her office has gotten about 20 since Thanksgiving.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is another Muslim member of Congress who Boebert has described in similar terms to Omar. The situation makes her worry — and not just for herself. 

“I still remember my son questioning whether or not he can tell people he’s Muslim. I don’t want him growing up in a country like that. And we can’t allow a colleague to be able to evoke that. We can’t. It’s wrong. And it is increasing violence towards Muslims,” she said.

‘Let’s put some action to the words’

The Democrats supporting the resolution stress it’s the threat of violence that is causing them to act. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said words have power: “We have seen what it can inspire. Ask Steve Scalise. Ask Gabby Giffords. Or Capitol Police on Jan. 6.”

“These are the same kinds of comments that result in actual death threats and workplace animus aimed at the members themselves.”

Removal from the Natural Resources and Budget committees could seriously affect Boebert’s ability to legislate. Committees are where the bulk of the legislative work is done — they review and debate bills, conduct oversight and question witnesses on pressing topics, and usually work out which bills are moved forward to the House floor. 

Wasserman Schulz said that’s exactly why they’re taking this step. 

“No matter how much money she might raise off of it, or beat her chest over how much attention she’s getting, there’s no way that any member wants to be deprived of their ability to serve on committee and make policy. That’s generally why we all come here,” she explained. And, she added, it sends a message to other members in the Republican caucus.

Back in Colorado, Democratic state Rep. Iman Jodeh, the state’s first Muslim lawmaker, has a simple message for Boebert.

“We are American just as much as she is. We care for this country just as much as she does,” she said.

She added she’d welcome a conversation with the Republican.

“I would want her to understand that we are her neighbors and we shouldn’t be vilified nor viewed as the other,” Jodeh said.

Krista Cole, the Colorado board chair of CAIR, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, agrees about the potential power of actually talking to members of the religion. She converted to Islam almost two decades ago but remembers she didn’t know much about the faith or Muslims growing up.

She thinks a conversation with Boebert could be helpful — not to tell Boebert she is wrong or demand an apology — but to help Boebert gain a better understanding of the Muslim community in Colorado.

“Yeah, words are one thing. Yeah, issuing an apology that's great. But let’s put some action to the words,” she said. The national leadership for CAIR has called for Democrats to censure Boebert if her party's leaders don't do anything.

Whether Democratic leaders take action over Boebert’s words remains to be seen.

Omar, herself, might be an example of a middle ground they could seek as they try to deal with Boebert. After offensive comments from Omar in 2019, the House passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry.

A bill up for consideration this week would try to combat Islamophobia internationally. It’s sponsored by Rep. Ilhan Omar.