Con­gress­man’s pol­i­tics lead to a house di­vided

Rep. Paul A. Gosar’s sib­lings have had enough of his hard-line views

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY GREG JAFFE

laramie, wyo. — Three months had passed since Grace Gosar and five of her sib­lings de­cided they had to do some­thing to stop their brother, a hard-line con­ser­va­tive and staunch de­fender of Pres­i­dent Trump, from win­ning re­elec­tion to Con­gress.

Their so­lu­tion back then had been star­tling: Film a cam­paign ad for their brother’s op­po­nent.

Grace, a 54-year-old mother of three, was bat­tling ovar­ian can­cer. The dis­ease had taken a steady toll on her body, so much so that when she faced the cam­era that day and en­dorsed her brother’s op­po­nent, she wor­ried that the re­main­der of her life would be mea­sured in months rather than years.

“I couldn’t be quiet any longer, nor should any of us be,” she said in the ad, which cut to an­other one of her sib­lings and then an­other and an­other and an­other and an­other, all im­plor­ing vot­ers to cast aside their brother.

The Gosar sib­ling spots were played and re­played mil­lions of times on­line this past fall, a sym­bol to many Amer­i­cans of the tur­moil in their own fam­i­lies and the myr­iad ways in which their coun­try had never seemed more di­vided, angry and ir­rec­on­cil­able than dur­ing the Trump era.

Nine-hun­dred miles away in Ari­zona, Grace’s brother, Rep. Paul A. Gosar, won his race by a whop­ping 38-point mar­gin. Now, like so many Amer­i­cans whose lives had been shaken by the

coun­try’s dys­func­tional pol­i­tics, Grace was wrestling with what came next. What did it mean to be a good daugh­ter, mother, sis­ter and cit­i­zen at a mo­ment when her health and her coun­try seemed to be un­rav­el­ing? Some ver­sion of that ques­tion was still be­dev­il­ing all her sib­lings.

Grace’s an­swer came on a frigid De­cem­ber day when she headed off to see pa­tients at the Down­town Clinic, which of­fered free health care to any­one with­out in­sur­ance. She rubbed her head and neck, which throbbed with pain.

She had spent 25 years as a ru­ral physi­cian un­til her dis­ease forced her to give up her med­i­cal prac­tice. She had de­cided to spend what she knew could be her last months at­tend­ing to the in­di­gent and un­doc­u­mented in Laramie — some of the very peo­ple tar­geted by Paul’s un­com­pro­mis­ing poli­cies and harsh rhetoric.

Her younger brother Pete, 50, served as the clinic’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and needed the ex­tra help to cover a grow­ing pa­tient load. Grace needed some­thing to dis­tract her from the coun­try’s poi­sonous pol­i­tics and the steady ad­vance of her can­cer.

So she spent the day see­ing pa­tients who had no place else to go. It was ap­proach­ing 9 p.m. — two hours past the clinic’s of­fi­cial clos­ing time — and a cou­ple of pa­tients were fin­ish­ing up with one of the clinic’s other physi­cians. A half-eaten chicken pot­pie, do­nated by some women from the local Methodist church for the staff and pa­tients, was grow­ing cold in the clinic’s break room. “How’s your head?” Pete asked. “The same,” Grace said. “It’s not great.”

She slipped on her coat and pulled a scarf tight over her face.

“Holler if you need to skip work to­mor­row,” he said.

“What am I go­ing to do, sit at home?” she asked.

She pushed open the clinic’s heavy metal door and strode into the windy, snowy Wyoming night.

It was dif­fi­cult to pin­point ex­actly when the Gosars’ po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ments with their brother Paul be­came some­thing larger and un­bridge­able. Each of the sib­lings — seven have pub­licly re­buked him — seemed to have their own break­ing point.

The 10 Gosar chil­dren — Paul was the el­dest of seven boys and three girls — were raised in Pinedale, Wyo., a small town dom­i­nated by the oil in­dus­try on the eastern edge of the Rock­ies. Their par­ents were de­voted Repub­li­cans who at­tended the na­tional con­ven­tions for for­mer pres­i­dents Richard M. Nixon and Ger­ald Ford.

Back then, the Gosars’ lives were dom­i­nated by sports more than pol­i­tics. Four of Grace’s broth­ers played on the Univer­sity of Wyoming foot­ball or bas­ket­ball teams. Thirty years later, the Gosar Fam­ily Walk-On Award is still be­stowed upon the univer­sity’s top non-schol­ar­ship foot­ball player. Grace was a track star, running 800 me­ters and the mile at the univer­sity.

Most of the chil­dren set­tled within a few hours’ drive of Pinedale. Paul, at­tracted by the warm cli­mate, started a den­tal prac­tice in Ari­zona. But they all gath­ered for sum­mer re­unions at their par­ents’ home, a mod­est one-story house that sits on a lot scat­tered with bro­ken-down campers, a rusted trac­tor and di­lap­i­dated snow­mo­biles.

Dave, an at­tor­ney and the best man at Paul’s wed­ding, was the first to cut ties with his brother fol­low­ing one of Paul’s 2010 fundrais­ing vis­its to Wyoming. Just be­fore Paul left town, he men­tioned that Barack Obama prob­a­bly wouldn’t be el­i­gi­ble for a sec­ond term be­cause he wasn’t born in the United States.

Dave was al­ready peeved at his brother for ig­nor­ing him dur­ing the visit. Now he was fu­ri­ous.

“My ex­act quote to him was, ‘You’re a f---ing birther?’ ” Dave re­called say­ing. “‘You have got to be kid­ding me!’ ”

A few months later, Paul, part of the tea party back­lash to Obama, won his first elec­tion by promis­ing to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act, cut gov­ern­ment spend­ing and crack down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Grace ac­com­pa­nied their fa­ther to Wash­ing­ton for Paul’s swear­ing-in as a con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Paul was more con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cally than she had ex­pected. But she held her tongue. “It wasn’t about me,” she said.

Over time, though, po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ments be­gan to dom­i­nate the sib­lings’ sum­mer gath­er­ings. In the fall of 2015, Paul boy­cotted Pope Fran­cis’s his­toric speech to Con­gress be­cause the pon­tiff planned to dis­cuss the dan­gers posed by a rapidly warm­ing plan- et. “When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a left­ist politi­cian,” Paul wrote, “then he can be ex­pected to be treated like one.”

Paul’s sib­lings drafted a let­ter con­demn­ing their brother but didn’t send it af­ter his el­dest daugh­ter, their niece, warned them that it would tear the fam­ily apart.

Trump’s rise led Paul to sharpen his po­si­tions, par­tic­u­larly re­gard­ing im­mi­grants. He cited er­ro­neous sta­tis­tics to ar­gue that re­cip­i­ents of the Obama-era De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, also known as “dream­ers,” were prone to crime and ac­counted for 30 per­cent of all kid­nap­pings in Ari­zona.

He asked the Capi­tol po­lice to de­port any dream­ers at­tend­ing the State of the Union as guests of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers.

“Of all the places where the Rule of Law needs to be en­forced, it should be in the hal­lowed halls of Con­gress,” Gosar wrote. “Any il­le­gal aliens at­tempt­ing to go through se­cu­rity, un­der any pre­text of in­vi­ta­tion or oth­er­wise, should be ar­rested and de­ported.”

For Grace and her sib­lings, the fi­nal break came in the sum­mer of 2017, when white su­prem­a­cists de­scended on Char­lottesville, pro­vok­ing a vi­o­lent back­lash that, po­lice said, led to the death of a 32-year-old woman. With­out ev­i­dence, Paul sug­gested in an in­ter­view with Vice News that Ge­orge Soros, a bil­lion­aire in­vestor and lib­eral donor, had funded the ri­ots. He then falsely ac­cused Soros, who is Jewish, of turn­ing in his own peo­ple to the Nazis dur­ing World War II.

“This is a mat­ter of right and wrong,” Paul’s sib­lings wrote in a let­ter pub­lished in the King­man Daily Miner, a news­pa­per in the con­gress­man’s dis­trict. “Our par­ents are 87 and 83 and we would be out­raged if some sleaze did to them what Paul shame­lessly did to Mr. Soros.”

Through his chief of staff, Paul cast his broth­ers and sis­ters as “hate filled” and urged them to re­turn to the “once-ac­cepted norm that fam­i­lies, neigh­bors and coun­try­men can dis­agree with­out ques­tion­ing the other’s char­ac­ter, in­tegrity and mo­tives.”

For now that seems un­likely. A few days be­fore his sib­lings sent the Soros let­ter, Dave started a Twit­ter ac­count for the sole purpose of de­nounc­ing his brother. “If you had any guts or de­cency you would apol­o­gize for your de­spi­ca­ble, anti-Semitic, loony tunes al­le­ga­tions,” he wrote in his first tweet.

As the months passed, Dave’s tweets grew an­grier and more per­sonal. Within a mat­ter of weeks, he be­gan re­fer­ring to Paul as “Weasel,” a hated high school nick­name.

“He re­ally loves the name and it fits per­fectly,” Dave tweeted in De­cem­ber 2017. “Your fam­ily de­spises you, Weasel.”

Some days, Dave rel­ished the pain he imag­ined that he was in­flict­ing on Paul, who he be­lieved was hurt­ing so many oth­ers. And some days Dave won­dered if he was be­com­ing a bully him­self.

“I know from be­ing a lawyer that when you are angry — and you present that — it’s not ef­fec­tive,” he said. “It’s de­struc­tive to me.” By this point, he had logged nearly 1,700 angry tweets.

Grace knew a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of Dave, and she was re­luc­tant to crit­i­cize him for his tweets. Dave was the brother who had taken off work and trav­eled with her to Hous­ton’s MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter when her tu­mors had stopped re­spond­ing to chemo­ther­apy and she was hop­ing for a spot in a clinical trial that might save her life. He helped her ap­ply for dis­abil­ity.

It was a few days be­fore Christ­mas, and Dave was home in Jack­son, Wyo., read­ing the news and tweet­ing. A fed­eral judge in Texas had just struck down the Af­ford­able Care Act. “C’mon, Weasel,” he wrote. “Be happy that this de­ci­sion might deprive your sis­ters of cov­er­age for se­ri­ous health con­di­tions.”

Where Dave railed pub­licly against his brother, Grace headed off to the clinic to treat those who she be­lieved were most hurt by Paul’s poli­cies. And where her brother told Paul ev­ery­thing he thought of him, she had de­cided to tell him nothing about her wors­en­ing con­di­tion.

On a re­cent Thurs­day, the wait­ing room at the Down­town Clinic was fill­ing with peo­ple wait­ing to see Grace.

Pete was wait­ing by the front door, where he greeted each of the pa­tients by name — a small way he sought to re­move some of the stigma as­so­ci­ated with char­ity care.

Be­fore Pete was hired as the clinic’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor in 2015, he had been a so­cial stud­ies teacher, a com­muter air­line pi­lot and the chair of the state’s Demo­cratic Party. In 2014, he ran un­suc­cess­fully for gov­er­nor. Paul had never asked to see the clinic, and nei­ther Grace nor Pete had in­vited him to visit it. They weren’t sure Paul even knew they worked there.

“How is the sleep ap­nea?” Pete asked Nick Beumer, 42, who came to the clinic four years ago with un­treated di­a­betes and de­pres­sion. “Bet­ter,” Nick replied. “You look great,” Pete said. “Grace is go­ing to be so pumped to see you.”

About half of the clinic’s pa­tients, like Nick, worked part time and were bat­tling se­vere and chronic health con­di­tions. The sleep-ap­nea pro­gram, which had helped Nick shed 50 pounds, was Grace’s in­no­va­tion, clinic staffers said. Through calls to hos­pices, she found fam­i­lies will­ing to do­nate sleep-ap­nea masks of de­ceased loved ones. Pete se­cured do­na­tions from a non­profit, and one of the clinic’s nurses re­cruited a vol­un­teer res­pi­ra­tory ther­a­pist from her church to help treat the pa­tients.

In its best mo­ments, the clinic de­manded a cre­ativ­ity that was more rewarding than a tra­di­tional prac­tice. “It’s like solv­ing a med­i­cal Ru­bik’s cube,” Grace said.

In its worst mo­ments, the clinic re­vealed in­equities that seemed ab­surd and even cruel. In the wait­ing room, a clinic staff mem­ber was help­ing a 36-year-old man fill out his in­take form. The man, who had come in with his dog, had been a clinic pa­tient for sev­eral years, but his back­ground was hazy. He strug­gled to speak or read. His par­ents, he said, had been killed in a car ac­ci­dent.

“How of­ten do you feel down, de­pressed or hope­less?” the staffer asked him. He looked blankly at her. “Do you feel sad?” she clar­i­fied.

He flashed a thumbs-up to in­di­cate that he felt fine and af­ter a few more ques­tions headed back to the exam room, his dog trail­ing be­hind him.

Out front, Pete greeted a 62year-old man who had come to pick up his di­a­betes med­i­ca­tion. Even though the tem­per­a­tures had plunged into the teens, he was wear­ing only a Wind­breaker and torn gloves. Pete pressed the man to go to the local soup kitchen.

“I only go if I’m des­per­ate,” the man said.

These men would never find jobs with health ben­e­fits, Pete and Grace knew. If vot­ers and law­mak­ers spent a day at the clinic, Pete was sure they would de­mand a more hu­mane sys­tem.

“They haven’t been touched by it,” he said.

By Pete’s reck­on­ing, Paul was one of those who hadn’t been touched.

These days, though, Pete doubted he was reach­able. There was a time, only four years ago, when their re­la­tion­ship wasn’t so strained. In 2014, when Pete was mak­ing his long­shot run for gov­er­nor, he joked in the Casper, Wyo., news­pa­per that his el­dest brother was a con­ser­va­tive be­cause he never had to wear hand-me-down clothes.

“We’ll keep work­ing on him,” Pete had said then.

“He is a good man,” Paul had replied, back when their dis­agree­ments were merely over pol­icy. “He is my brother!”

Back then, when­ever Pete was in Wash­ing­ton, he and Paul would meet for din­ner or a drink. Pete didn’t ap­pear in the cam­paign ad with his other sib­lings, but he signed the 2017 let­ter call­ing on his brother to apol­o­gize for the Soros re­mark. Some­where along the way — he wasn’t sure when — he and Paul had stopped speak­ing.

Ini­tially, Pete said it didn’t make sense to in­vite his el­dest brother to the clinic. He didn’t have time for “des­per­ate” acts, he said. But, af­ter stew­ing overnight on the ques­tion, he de­cided it was his re­spon­si­bil­ity to do ev­ery­thing he could to ad­vo­cate for his pa­tients. “There’s nothing to lose,” he said.

He wasn’t sure how Grace, whose anger was rawer, would feel about invit­ing Paul to the clinic. Maybe, he said, he would try to sched­ule a visit on a day when she was off. As of mid-Jan­uary he still hadn’t called Paul.

In one of the ads she made for Paul’s op­po­nent, Grace was sit­ting in what looks like the hall­way of a bustling hos­pi­tal talk­ing about the ran­dom na­ture of “tragedy and ill­ness” and her own ter­mi­nal dis­ease.

“When I be­gan in medicine I didn’t be­lieve — I did not be­lieve — health care was a right,” she said in the ad. “I couldn’t be but 180 de­grees from where I started.”

A few weeks af­ter the ad aired, Grace and her hus­band sold their home to pay for her care.

Her in­sur­ance com­pany, United Health­care, had stopped pay­ing for the in­fu­sions of the drug Avastin that were keep­ing her alive. First, they told her, the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tionap­proved drug was “not med­i­cally nec­es­sary,” she said. Then they in­sisted that it was “ex­per­i­men­tal and in­ves­ti­ga­tional.” Now the com­pany was say­ing she owed nearly $200,000 and count­ing.

Some­times she be­rated her­self for cry­ing at her fate be­cause she knew that so many of her pa­tients had it worse. There was the mother of three with ad­vanced colon can­cer. A few days ear­lier, Grace had been shop­ping at Good­will for ugly Christ­mas sweaters when she saw a col­lec­tion jar on the counter for the woman. The woman and her hus­band earned slightly too much to qual­ify for Med­i­caid. So, they took the money from the jar di­rectly to the hos­pi­tal to pay down their bill, Grace said, “be­cause they know if that goes away, she’s not liv­ing.”

She thought of the 49-yearold man who had walked into the clinic one day ear­lier in torn socks and no shoes. He was sev­eral hun­dred pounds over­weight. What he re­ally needed was a sur­gi­cal spe­cial­ist to close the wounds on his feet. With­out such care, his sores would just get larger and even­tu­ally doc­tors would have to am­pu­tate. Grace pre­scribed an­tibi­otics — the best that she could do for him for now.

It was a Fri­day af­ter­noon, and the clinic was closed to pa­tients. The staff gath­ered around a fold­ing ta­ble in the clinic’s makeshift phar­macy for its end-of-week meet­ing. Grace had been hos­pi­tal­ized one week ear­lier for surgery to open an ob­struc­tion in her kid­ney. She hoped the block­age was just scar­ring, but “ev­ery­one sur­mises that it’s prob­a­bly the can­cer,” she said.

For now, though, she was healthy enough to work and plan­ning her sched­ule for Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. She spent her week­ends with her hus­band and daugh­ter in Buf­falo, Wyo. — about a four-hour drive away — and her week­days in Laramie at the clinic. She took time off for her can­cer treat­ments and her daugh­ter’s high school bas­ket­ball games.

Her ill­ness, she said, had been a “per­sonal earth­quake . . . a seis­mic event where ev­ery­thing is in­ter­rupted and de­mol­ished at the same mo­ment.

“You go from prob­lem solver to a prob­lem; from as­set to li­a­bil­ity; from well to sick; from fi­nan­cially stable to pre­car­i­ous; from a mem­ber of the com­mu­nity that is re­gard-able to some­one who is for­get­table; from think­ing about a life when you’re no longer avail­able for your kids to do­ing crazyass things like driv­ing four hours to work for some­thing that seems like your only op­por­tu­nity.”

She missed see­ing her hus­band and daugh­ter back home in Buf­falo. But she needed the clinic. It was a place where she could still prac­tice medicine, still do good and still fight back against the forces she be­lieved were mak­ing the coun­try meaner, an­grier and more di­vided. Those forces in­cluded her brother Paul.

“I feel like it’s an af­flic­tion,” she said of the alarm she felt for the coun­try and the anger she felt to­ward her brother. “What can you do but try to hold the line in the best way you can against the aw­ful he rep­re­sents?”

“When I be­gan in medicine I didn’t be­lieve — I did not be­lieve — health care was a right. I couldn’t be but 180 de­grees from where I started.” Grace Gosar, in a cam­paign ad for her brother Paul’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent

RACHEL WOOLF FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Grace Gosar spends much of her time tend­ing to poor pa­tients in Laramie, Wyo. Her brother Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) promised to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act.

BILL CLARK/CQ ROLL CALL/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Many of the Gosar sib­lings couldn’t pin­point ex­actly when their po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ments with their brother, Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), be­came so un­bridge­able.

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