PROVIDENCE — US Representative David N. Cicilline is calling for Congress to censure Republican lawmakers for what he called “dangerous mischaracterizations” about the Jan. 6 storming of the US Capitol.
Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, wrote a letter asking members of Congress to co-sponsor a resolution to censure several legislators whom he said tried to rewrite history during a House oversight committee hearing last week.
For example, Representative Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican, said images of insurrectionists in the Capitol looked like “a normal tourist visit,” and Representative Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, accused the Justice Department of harassing “peaceful patriots.”
“This is an effort by members of Congress to completely rewrite the history of Jan. 6, and it’s very dangerous,” Cicilline told the Globe on Monday.
He said it’s one thing to see misinformation disseminated on the internet. “But when sitting members of Congress make these misrepresentations during an official hearing of the House, we have to do something about it,” he said.
Cicilline, who served as an impeachment manager in the second impeachment trial of former president Donald J. Trump, said that allowing legislators to “create a new set of facts” could pave the way for another insurrection.
“It will embolden further violence against the government and will potentially cause further deaths and injury to people who work in that building,” he said. “We cannot remain silent.”
Last week, Republicans ousted Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, from her No. 3 House leadership post for repudiating Trump’s election falsehoods.
“The good news is they can’t remove me from the Republican leadership like they did Liz Cheney for speaking the truth,” Cicilline said. “But we have a responsibility to call it out and condemn these kinds of dangerous mischaracterizations. And censure is really the best way to do it.”
In his letter seeking co-sponsors, Cicilline noted that during the Civil War, 17 members of Congress were expelled for disloyalty to the United States, and in 1864 Congressman Alexander Long was censured for arguing for recognition of the Confederacy.
“This body took action to hold disloyal members accountable for undermining our democracy and violating the oath they took to defend and protect the Constitution,” he wrote. “The same holds true today. We cannot allow this abhorrent mischaracterization to go unchecked.”
Cicilline has received criticism from some quarters for seeking to censure legislators.
In his law blog, George Washington University law Professor Jonathan Turley wrote that he does not agree with some of the characterizations or rhetoric used by the GOP legislators that Cicilline mentioned. But, he said, “The attempt to censure colleagues for holding such opposing views is a disgraceful use of legislative authority.”
“Putting aside the irony given challenges to Cicilline’s own often over-heated rhetoric, including as a House impeachment manager, he is seeking to punish colleagues for holding an opposing view of what occurred on that day,” he wrote.
Turley, who testified against impeachment during Trump’s first impeachment trial, said the speech of members of Congress is protected not just by the First Amendment but the speech and debate clause of the US Constitution.
“The Cicilline resolution should be condemned by members of both parties as an abusive legislative authority and inimical to the legislative process,” he wrote. “He would open a Pandora’s box of politically retaliatory measures that would see no end in our age of rage.”
Cicilline disagreed with Turley’s analysis, saying, “You can’t yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. You can’t utter words which are likely to cause violence, and this dangerous mischaracterization of the facts of Jan. 6 will embolden others who will contemplate action like that.”
Cicilline argued that members of Congress have a responsibility to act. “The Big Lie was the beginning of this, and now it’s continuing lies from Republicans about the events of Jan. 6,” he said. “It is dangerous.”