I was going to write today about the spread of the potentially deadly omicron variant of COVID-19, but I’m afraid there’s another dangerous virus making its rounds — threatening Colorado, threatening America, threatening to normalize bigotry, threatening democracy itself — that also must be addressed.
This virus, sadly, has no vaccine. No cure. I’m pretty sure not even a triple dose of ivermectin would help, although, maybe in this one instance, it wouldn’t hurt to try Donald Trump’s household disinfectant treatment.
I speak, of course, of Rep. Lauren Boebert, the right-wing bigot and performance artist who uses her, uh, job, representing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District as a way to raise money, raise her profile and, certainly, raise some hell.
As you may guess, I have nothing against hell-raising in principle, except for those times when it devolves into anti-Muslim, homophobic, xenophobic, racist trolling as it did in Boebert’s recent stand-up routine slamming Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, the only Muslim in Congress to wear a hijab.
You’ve no doubt heard of Boebert’s elevator story, in which she tells a Colorado crowd of her impromptu — and likely apocryphal — meeting with Ilhan Omar.
“I was getting into an elevator with one of my staffers, and he and I were leaving the Capitol, we’re going back to my office and we get in the elevator and I see a Capitol Police officer running hurriedly to the elevator. I see fret all over his face. And he’s reaching. The door is shutting. I can’t open it.”
“What’s happening? 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 said.
I kept waiting for the rim shot, but the Boebert crowd didn’t need the help. Her supporters broke out into laughter and cheers as Boebert called her colleague — or any Muslim with a backpack, for that matter — a likely suicide bomber. Boebert wasn’t done, of course. She claimed she went on to call Omar, to her face, a member of the “jihad squad.”
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I assumed it was all just shtick, racist shtick, the kind of shtick you’d expect at a Proud Boys open-mic night. And then, as you might have expected, CNN found another video, this one from September, in which Boebert was telling a, uh, similar story, except with no cop. And Omar coming into the elevator after Boebert. And a “lookey there” tossed into the mix.
Take a lookey there: “One of my I staffers, on his first day with me, got into an elevator in the Capitol. And in that elevator, we were joined by Ilhan Omar,” Boebert told a New York crowd in September. “It was just us three in there and I looked over and I said, ‘Well, lookey there, it’s the jihad squad.’
“She doesn’t have a backpack, she wasn’t dropping it and running so we’re good,” Boebert adds, before calling Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., “blackhearted, evil women.” It’s probably just a coincidence that Omar and Tlaib are both Muslim.
Now you know why the phone call Monday between Boebert and Omar — one in which Boebert was presumably going to apologize — didn’t go so well. Omar asked for a public apology. Boebert refused and insisted instead that Omar apologize publicly for what she called Omar’s “anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric.”
Then they released dueling statements, in which Boebert suggests, once again, that Omar is a terrorist sympathizer and Omar says, “I believe in engaging with those we disagree with respectfully, but not when that disagreement is rooted in outright bigotry and hate.” The only thing they agreed on was that Omar hung up on Boebert, which Boebert called “cancel culture 101.”
And there you have it.
I’m not sure which speaks louder — the condemnation of Boebert from House Democrats or the profound silence from House Republican leadership. As you might have noticed, we also haven’t heard much from leading state Republicans, some of whom have privately told me of their disdain for Boebert. I can see being afraid to criticize Trump, but Boebert? Are they worried she’s packing? I mean, is it a case of Glockophobia or just spine-free fear of any part of the base that Trump and Boebert share?
As it turns out, maybe those craven Republicans had it right because it wouldn’t be long before Trump did, in fact, weigh in and, of course, on the side of Boebert. Trump accused Omar of, among other lies, “abandoning her former country.” Omar left Somalia as a refugee. When she was 12. And became an American citizen five years later. That’s not the Big Lie. It’s just another lie. He told more lies, but some are too ugly to repeat.
And if you think things can’t get worse, you just haven’t been paying attention.
Yes, Boebert is a bully and a demagogue, a troll and a provocateur, a proponent of the Big Lie, but that’s not even the half of it.
While Republican leadership stayed quiet, all hell broke loose in a Boebert-charged battle between Boebert’s squad of House undesirables and what’s left of GOP House moderates.
Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina began it all by slamming Boebert’s remarks in a TV interview. In response, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had said Boebert should never apologize, called Mace “trash.” And Mace hit back, according to the New York Times account, with a rapid-fire string of emojis — including a pile of, uh, excrement— before going on to call her, among other niceties, a grifter and a nut.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who’s so moderate that he voted to impeach Trump and is now retiring, rushed to defend Mace, calling Greene an “unserious circus barker McSpacelaser.” If you don’t get the reference, here’s a primer on Greene and Jewish space lasers.
There’s more back and more forth, but the question is, what should be done about any of it? Should Boebert be censured by the House like Gosar for his snuff animé video? Should she be stripped of her committee assignments for crimes against rhetoric like Greene? Sure, probably, but to what point?
Democrats had to hand down those punishments, basically without Republican support, and, in each case, it simply turned into partisan squabbling rather than an agreement about what kind of behavior is unacceptable. But after two videos, Nancy Pelosi may have no choice but to do something.
And in the end, it doesn’t matter what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says or does in Boebert’s case. The way to bet is that he does nothing. In fact, McCarthy has already promised to grant Gosar and Greene full pardons if Republicans win back control of the House in next year’s midterms, even as Greene says she wouldn’t vote for McCarthy as speaker.
What matters is what the voters do in the 3rd Congressional District, which, in its newly redrawn form, has changed very little and still has a 9-point Republican lean. You’d expect a Republican to win there. But we’re obviously not talking about just any Republican.
Last year, Boebert beat Scott Tipton in a primary on her way to Congress. I guess people were looking, although apparently not closely enough, for new blood. Because when I hear Boebert speak, all I see is someone spreading ever more outrage as she picks over the same old hateful wounds.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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