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Colorado's Boebert creates a new challenge for Republican leaders

The question isn't whether Boebert is a decent and respectable official; the question is what the GOP will do to rescue the party from people like Boebert.

It's impressive, in an unsettling way, just how quickly Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado became one of Congress' most controversial members. The first-term congresswoman has expressed interest in the crackpot QAnon delusion, for example, and in her first week as a lawmaker, she tweeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's whereabouts during the Jan. 6 insurrectionist riot.

Six months later, Dana Milbank wrote a column describing Boebert as being "lost in a cacophony of crazy."

The Coloradan has done little to improve her standing. Two weeks ago, during a debate on censuring Republican Rep. Paul Gosar — the Arizonan had released an animated video depicting himself killing one of his Democratic colleagues — Boebert lashed out at Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of Congress' two Muslim women, as a member of the "jihad squad."

Last week, Boebert made matters worse, telling an audience a made-up story about Omar being mistaken for a terrorist in a Capitol Hill elevator. On Friday, the right-wing lawmaker expressed some contrition. "I apologize to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar," Boebert said in a tweet. "I have reached out to her office to speak with her directly."

Yesterday, the two congresswomen spoke. As Politico's report made clear, their conversation did not go well.

When Boebert called Omar on Monday, the firebrand freshman said she attempted to explain that she had not meant to impugn Omar's religion — but the exchange ended with the Democrat continuing to insist on public contrition, to which Boebert herself replied with an insistence on a public apology.

Ordinarily, when there's a private call between two people, the public will get competing versions of who said what to whom. But in this instance, Boebert and Omar seem to agree on what transpired.

The Colorado Republican called the Minnesota Democrat, and the latter asked the former to publicly acknowledge her hateful rhetoric. Boebert responded by arguing that Omar should be the one to apologize. Omar ended the call soon after, prompting Boebert to release a new video, again slamming Omar, and claiming that hanging up on someone "is cancel culture 101." (That's not what "cancel culture" means.)

On the surface, this is the latest story about a fringe congresswoman poisoning the political discourse and smearing a minority faith tradition. But below the surface, there's a larger significance to developments like these.

In a written statement yesterday, Omar concluded, "To date, the Republican Party leadership has done nothing to condemn and hold their own members accountable for repeated instances of anti-Muslim hate and harassment. This is not about one hateful statement or one politician; it is about a party that has mainstreamed bigotry and hatred. It is time for [House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy] to actually hold his party accountable."

This was hardly an unreasonable argument. Some GOP lawmakers have said Democrats shouldn't try to punish extremist members such as Gosar and Georgia's Marjorie Taylor Greene — through censure resolutions, stripping members of committee assignments, etc. — and should instead leave it to Republican leaders to police their own.

Except, that doesn't appear to be working. Either GOP leaders such as McCarthy are too weak to act — the Californian is so desperate to become House Speaker that he appears scared to bother his most radical members — or too indifferent to members' misconduct to care.

We're left with a familiar dynamic. The question is not whether Boebert is a decent and respectable official; she clearly is not. Rather, the question is what Republican leaders are prepared to do to rescue their party from descending further into the toxic fever swamp.