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Democrats release new anti-hate bill, ready vote to end Omar controversy

Democrats want to put issue to bed, avoid a Republican motion to recommit on the topic

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., center, shakes hands with Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., as they leave the CVC Auditorium during a break in the House Democrats’ leadership elections Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Hoyer was elected majority leader that afternoon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., center, shakes hands with Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., as they leave the CVC Auditorium during a break in the House Democrats’ leadership elections Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Hoyer was elected majority leader that afternoon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 4:02 p.m. | The House will vote on an anti-hate resolution Thursday that makes a stronger statement against anti-Semitism — and indirectly freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar — than a draft that had been circulated earlier in the week.

At the same time, the updated resolution adds language rejecting other forms of bigotry like Islamophobia and racism to make the resolution less of a direct rebuke on Omar and her comments and more of a condemnation of all offensive rhetoric.  

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced the plan for the vote Thursday morning during Democrats’ weekly whip meeting. His office sent the text of the resolution out around 1:15 p.m. with a schedule update saying the House would vote on it around 3:15 p.m., giving lawmakers two hours to review the seven-page resolution.

The vote was later delayed a little more than an hour to accommodate a last minute tweak adding a “whereas” statement about white supremacists continuing “to exploit bigotry and weaponize hate for political gain.”

Majority Whip James Clyburn told Democrats during the whip meeting that the vote needed to be Thursday to prevent Republicans from using their motion to recommit for HR 1, which will get a vote Friday, to exploit the issue and try to divide Democrats, according to a source in the room.

Watch: Pelosi focuses on HR1 and the anti-Semitism resolution in weekly presser

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The draft resolution, circulated on Monday evening, resolved that that the House “acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes; and rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

The updated resolution that the House will vote on alters the first clause to “rejects the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the United States and around the world, including the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.”

The addition of language in the “resolved” portion of the resolution — which follows numerous “whereas” statements laying out the rationale for the resolution — that rejects “the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance,” serves as a more direct response to Omar’s comments that sparked this week’s anti-hate debate. 

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” the Minnesota Democrat, who openly opposes Israel’s government, said at an event last week. 

Jewish Democrats felt that Omar was invoking the anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalty” and many wanted to see the House formally respond, given that this was the second time she’s made comments against Israel that some have interpreted as anti-Semitic. 

But others in the Democratic Caucus pushed their leaders to broaden the measure because they did not want to attack Omar personally. Many also wanted to rebuke hateful language used by other politicians like President Donald Trump.

The updated resolution does make a more forceful statement against anti-Semitic tropes, with the second clause of the resolution using the verb  “condemns” instead of “rejects” as in the draft.

But that clause also replaces anti-Semitism with “anti-Semitic acts and statements” — language designed to make clear that Democrats don’t actually believe Omar is anti-Semitic.

The updated resolution adds seven additional clauses in the “resolved” portion of the resolution. One “condemns anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry” — language that seemingly defends Omar, who upon her swearing in this year became one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress.

Omar frequently deals with Islamophobia, such as a recent incident in West Virginia where protesters used images trying to tie her to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has received threats that her some of her colleagues worry will only increase because of the media attention over this resolution.

The last clause of the resolution “encourages all public officials to confront the reality of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry, as well as historical struggles against them.”

[FBI investigating assassination threat against Rep. Omar scrawled on gas station bathroom stall]

’Weight of the words′

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday declined to call on Omar to apologize for her remarks, saying she does not believe the Minnesota Democrat understood the impact of her words.

“It’s up to her to explain, but I do not believe that she understood the full weight of the words,” Pelosi said. “I feel confident that her words were not based on anti-Semitic attitude but that she didn’t have a full appreciation of how they landed.”

Pelosi said the resolution the House will vote on Thursday will “speak out against anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy and all the forms” of hate.

“It’s not about her,” the California Democrat said of Omar. “It’s about these forms of hatred.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, one of the Jewish members who led the initial push for the resolution, delivered a floor speech on the matter Thursday after the vote was announced, saying it was personal to him. 

“My colleagues, because of anti-Semitism over a millennia, millions of Jews have been hated, targeted, expelled form their countries, violently attacked, killed and exterminated,” the Florida Democrat said. “Words lead to action and death.”

Deutch said “there is too much hatred” in the world and Congress needs to support all of the people who have been targets of that but noted the debate lawmakers are having now is because of Omar’s comments. He questioned why lawmakers can’t “singularly condemn” anti-Semitism.

“It feels like we’re only able to call the anti-Semitic use of language by a colleague of ours — any colleague of ours — if we’re addressing all forms of hatred. And it feels like we can’t say it’s anti-Semitism unless everyone agrees that it’s anti-Semitism. Who gets to define what accounts as stereotypes and discrimination? Isn’t it the people experience the bias, the people who’ve experience that hatred for thousands of years?”

’Put this issue behind us′

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Katherine Clark said holding the vote Thursday allows the caucus “to put this issue behind us.”

“I think it is time to return our focus to the incredible work we’re doing on expanding and protecting voter rights and cleaning up our political process,” the Massachusetts Democrat said, referring to HR 1.

Clark said she’s hopeful the expanded resolution will address various concerns raised from members this week about the more narrowly focused anti-Semitism resolution while still making a strong statement about that matter.

“I’m proud to be part of a caucus that takes on these issues of racism and bigotry,” she said. “And it’s not always easy, but it’s important. And it’s something important to the American people.”

Democrats leaving the whip meeting weren’t ready to say they’d support the resolution, saying they needed to read it first.

“I’m looking forward to looking at it and adding any critiques I might need to,” Rep. Joyce Beatty said. 

The Ohio Democrat was among those who thought the resolution should be broadened to reject racial discrimination as well.

“I’m an African-American female, and I’ve been in this Congress a few months ago where I’ve heard the highest elected official talk about women, calling members of Congress things that are not flattering — what he said about Frederica [Wilson] — talking about African-American athletes, talking about shithole countries,” she said. “So yes, I think we have an issue that deals with discriminatory words against black folks and brown folks.”

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is close with Omar, also said she needed to read the resolution. She noted that it’s been interesting to see how some incidents have been recognized inside the caucus. 

“I’m kind of learning about those dynamics,“ the freshman said.

Omar has publicly defended her remarks but has privately apologized to colleagues whom she offended. 

“She apologized to me personally,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky said. “I’m a Jew. And you know what, in our religion, we say that you welcome the stranger. Ilhan was a refugee to the United States of America. She came from a different culture. She is learning important lessons right now. And I just think that it is shameful that is being exploited not just by the Republicans, but also by the press.”

Ilhan Omar: Diversity in Congress leads to better policy

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