Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Republican Lawmaker for Whom the Spectacle Is the Point

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WASHINGTON — As lawmakers entered the Capitol on Wednesday for one of the most solemn enterprises in American government, the impeachment of a president, Representative Lauren Boebert was causing a spectacle before even making it into the chamber. She pushed her way through newly installed metal detectors and ignored police officers who asked her to stop so they could check her with a hand-held wand.

This reprised a standoff from the evening before, when Ms. Boebert, a freshman Republican from Colorado, refused to show guards what was inside her handbag as she entered the building. In both cases, she was eventually granted access, but not before engineering a made-for-Twitter moment that delighted the far right.

After joining her colleagues on Wednesday, Ms. Boebert took to the House floor to denounce the vote on impeachment that passed a few hours later.

“Where’s the accountability for the left after encouraging and normalizing violence?” Ms. Boebert asked loudly, arguing that Democrats had tolerated excessive violence last summer during the unrest over racial justice. “I call bullcrap when I hear the Democrats demanding unity.”

The standoff at the metal detectors was a characteristic stunt by Ms. Boebert. She is only 10 days into her term but has already arranged several episodes that showcased her brand of far-right defiance as a conspiracy theorist who proudly boasts of carrying her Glock handgun to Washington. She is only one of 435 House members, but Ms. Boebert, 34, represents an incoming faction of the party for whom breaking the rules — and gaining notoriety for doing it — is exactly the point.

In the same way Republicans leaders had to adapt to the Tea Party over a decade ago, House leaders must now contend with a narrow but increasingly clamorous element of the party that not only carries Mr. Trump’s anti-establishment message but connects with the voters who are so loyal to him — and so crucial to future elections.

In the process, Ms. Boebert and her cohort have exasperated other lawmakers and Republicans.

“There is a trend, in both parties, of members who seem more interested in dunking on folks on social media and appearing on friendly cable networks than doing the work of legislating,” said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist and former press secretary for the former House Speaker John Boehner. “They seem to see public service as more performance art than a battle of policy ideas.”

In recent days, Ms. Boebert and a group of other freshman Republicans, including the QAnon devotee Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, a 25-year-old freshman who claimed he was armed during the Capitol riots, have questioned or outright flouted guidelines meant to protect lawmakers from violence, intruders or the spread of the coronavirus.

Their fluency in social media, access to conservative television and talk radio platforms and combativeness with reporters on live television allows them to gain notoriety in nontraditional ways.

“There used to be a level of gatekeeping that went on with how members developed a profile when they got to Washington,” said Kevin Madden, a strategist who served as a senior adviser to Mitt Romney during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. “Usually you had to work for it and earn that notoriety. Now it’s given to you with one YouTube video.”

In an introductory video of sorts that she released last week, Ms. Boebert was shown walking against a Washington backdrop with a gun holstered at her waistline. “I refuse to give up my rights, especially my Second Amendment rights,” she said to the camera.

In her short time in office, Ms. Boebert has already sparred with a Republican colleague over security lapses at the Capitol last week and expressed interest in bringing her gun to work. Her Twitter account was temporarily suspended after she spread the falsehood that the presidential election was rigged.

She also faced criticism, and some demands that she resign, for tweeting out information about some lawmakers’ locations during the siege at the Capitol by a violent mob last week.

The behavior exhibited by Ms. Boebert and some of her fellow freshman Republicans prompted Timothy Blodgett, the House’s acting sergeant-at-arms, to send a memo to lawmakers on Tuesday notifying them that security screenings would be required for members seeking access to the chamber and that lawmakers who declined to wear masks would be removed from the House floor. Several Republicans responded by yelling that their rights were being violated as they passed through the metal detectors, behavior that has exasperated Democrats.

“I don’t know what the consequences are going to be for people who hold power and don’t ever want to be held accountable,” Rep. Tim Ryan, Democrat of Ohio, told NPR on Wednesday about lawmakers who bypassed security measures in the Capitol. He added that defiance by lawmakers was “a sign of how obnoxious things have become for some of these folks who were supporting Donald Trump. The rules don’t apply to them.”

Ms. Boebert unofficially started her campaign for Congress in September 2019 in Denver, announcing to the Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke that he would not be taking one of the most potent symbols of rural autonomy: her guns.

“I was one of the gun-owning Americans who heard you speak regarding your ‘Hell yes, I’m going to take your AR-15s and AK-47s,’” Ms. Boebert said to Mr. O’Rourke at the time. “Well, I’m here to say hell no, you’re not.’”

She has expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy group, though she has tried to temper that by saying she is not a follower.

Ms. Boebert was running a restaurant in Colorado’s ranch country — where she encouraged the servers to openly carry guns — when she stunned the state’s Republican establishment by defeating a five-term incumbent in the primary and then winning the general election.

“She was so inexperienced,” said Dick Wadhams, the former head of the Colorado Republican Party. “I don’t think she even knew she had no chance, which turned out to be a good thing for her. She caught everyone by surprise.”

So far, she has had the same effect on Washington. On Wednesday, the Capitol Police and Ms. Boebert’s office declined to respond to requests about whether she had actually been carrying a gun either time she had trouble getting into the chamber. Ms. Boebert has said that she has a concealed carry permit, issued through the District of Columbia, for her gun and has claimed on Twitter that she has the right to freely carry within the Capitol complex, which is not true.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department did not respond when asked if Washington’s police chief, Robert J. Contee III, had met with Ms. Boebert to explain the district’s gun laws to her, as he had said he would do last week.

Ms. Boebert has frequently defended her behavior as one of the reasons she was elected. Just as Mr. Trump has done with his base, she tells her followers that she is fighting for them. As for her right to carry a gun, she has written on Twitter that “self-defense is the most basic human right.’’

In Colorado, Ms. Boebert’s district covers much of western Colorado, a sprawling, politically diverse landscape of mesas and jagged mountains that includes liberal enclaves like Aspen and Telluride as well as often overlooked towns where cattle ranching, mining and natural gas drilling pay the bills. For generations, the district elected deeply rooted local men who, whether Democrat or Republican, tended to be cowboy-boot-wearing moderates focused on the local economy and natural resources.

Once a reliably red state, Colorado flipped with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and Republicans have struggled to regain a foothold. Democrats now hold both Senate seats, the state House and the governor’s office.

Republicans seeking to keep viability in the state regard Ms. Boebert’s behavior warily.

“I think most Republicans here are still behind her,” Mr. Wadhams said. “But she can’t just pick fights in Washington. She has got to pay attention to the issues in her district, too: in water, natural resources, mining. If she doesn’t do that, she’s in real trouble.”



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