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House GOP apathetic on Boebert’s Islamophobic remarks

Leaders, rank and file mostly silent or say they don't want to talk about it

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., is seen on the House steps of the U.S. Capitol after a vote.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., is seen on the House steps of the U.S. Capitol after a vote. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Just a few days after Iowa Rep. Steve King made comments sympathetic to white supremacy in January of 2019, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other top Republicans decided he was not fit to serve on committees.

“We believe in swift action, because we do not believe in his words,” McCarthy, a California Republican, said at the time.

A video emerged last week of Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert calling Rep. Ilhan Omar a member of the “Jihad squad” a pejorative reference to the Minnesota Democrat’s Muslim faith and her membership to a well-known group of progressives, known as the squad.

Boebert recounted a story — which Omar has said is false — in which the two members and a Boebert staffer were in a Capitol elevator. Boebert said a fretful Capitol Police officer ran toward the elevator as the door was shutting and she saw Omar to her left side and said, “well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine.”

McCarthy and his conference have been largely silent in publicly condemning Boebert’s comments. He did not respond to a question Thursday on whether her remarks were wrong. A McCarthy spokesperson did not respond to an email request for comment.

Representatives for Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York did not respond to requests for comment.

A Boebert spokesperson, when asked for comment, referred to her earlier statement on Twitter.

Save for a select few Republicans — such as South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, New York Rep. Tom Reed or Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger — members of the GOP conference, and its leaders, have shown apathy to condemning Boebert’s remarks.

Mace, who publicly rejected Boebert’s comments, drew a barrage of vitriol from Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has a history of inflammatory remarks herself.

When asked if Boebert’s comments were wrong, Republican members CQ Roll Call spoke with Wednesday and Thursday did not answer the question.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris said Thursday he had “no comment.” 

“We have huge issues to talk about. We have a debt ceiling that’s at $30 trillion. We have a [continuing resolution] that we haven’t passed yet. We have [a defense authorization bill] that’s not passed,” Harris said. “And all you guys want to talk about is that. Not good for the country.”

Rep. Brian Mast of Florida said Thursday he wasn’t aware of Boebert’s comments.

The ranking member of the Rules Committee, Rep. Tom Cole, said on Wednesday, “I’m not gonna get involved in any of that.”

Louisiana Rep. Julia Letlow said on Wednesday, “Gosh, I don’t have time right now.”

Omar has her own history of statements deemed as antisemitic tropes and offensive comparisons she has made. Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri on Thursday alluded to those when he was asked about Boebert’s comments.

“I think both sides say terrible stuff. Omar said some very awful stuff towards the Jewish community, and no actions have ever been taken,” Smith said when asked if it’s important to denounce what Boebert said.

The House Republican Conference met Wednesday, but McCarthy didn’t mention anybody specifically.

Kevin McCarthy did talk about issues in a general way without mentioning any names,” Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado said on Thursday, noting the focus should be on issues like inflation, spending and national security.

It was addressed appropriately in conference, Rep. John Katko of New York said after the GOP meeting on Wednesday.

“We just had a discussion in conference and I think it was handled appropriately and leave it at that,” Katko said. “I’m much more interested in governing than talking about this stuff. It’s family matters, family discussion.”

On whether Boebert’s comments were wrong, Lamborn said  “I would rather keep that a private discussion.”

Katko answered the same question with:  “I prefer not to comment on that stuff.” 

North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, said on Thursday, “I have no comment.”

McCarthy said he talked with Boebert the day after the November video caught attention and encouraged her to meet with Omar. Boebert and Omar spoke Monday on the phone. Omar ended the call and said she didn’t receive an apology. Boebert said she told Omar she reflected on her remarks and never wants anything she says to offend someone’s religion.

Another video resurfaced Tuesday from an event in September in which Boebert calls Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, another Muslim member, “black hearted, evil women.” Boebert also tells a version of the elevator story, suggesting Omar is a terrorist. Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, and Omar are two of three total Muslim members of Congress, along with Rep. André Carson of Indiana.

On Tuesday, Omar said Republican attacks on her faith have led to increased threats on her life. Hours after her call with Boebert ended, Omar received a hateful voicemail, which she played for the press on Tuesday.

The voicemail contained several racial slurs and used the word “jihadist,” the same word Boebert has used to denigrate Omar. “You are all about taking over our country. Don’t worry, there is plenty that would love the opportunity to take you off the face of this f***ing earth,” the caller said. “Come get it. But you are f***ing Muslim piece of shit. You are jihadist.”

Will Dems discipline Boebert

On Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus there are differing views on what to do in response to Boebert, but that they cannot allow GOP members to endanger lawmakers’ lives, especially because of their faith, according to a source in the room.

A coalition of 38 progressive Democrats led by Reps. Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, Carson, and Pramila Jayapal of Washington called for Boebert to be removed from her committees.

“Our response to behavior that creates a dangerous work environment and furthers a climate of toxicity and intolerance cannot be silence,” the group said in a Thursday statement. “Congress cannot forgo accountability when a Member engages in hate speech that dehumanizes not only a colleague, but an entire people. We cannot be complicit as members of this body, who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, trample on the fundamental right of religious freedom.”

Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was joined Wednesday in calling for Boebert’s removal from her committees by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Congressional Asian Pacific American Chair Judy Chu of California, Congressional Equality Caucus Chair David Cicilline of Rhode Island, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Raul Ruiz of California.

In February, the House voted to strip Greene from her committees for supporting social media posts that threatened harm against her Democratic colleagues, including one that called for Pelosi to be assassinated. Eleven Republicans supported that measure. 

The House voted in November to censure Rep. Paul Gosar and remove him from his committees for posting a violent, edited video on social media of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and swinging swords at President Joe Biden. That penalty — graver than the one handed to Greene because of the censure component — drew support from just two Republicans.

Omar told CQ Roll Call Tuesday that the Gosar avenue is “an option.”

It’s unclear when or if the Democrats will take action on the Boebert matter.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield said he expects the remainder of the week to be focused on a short-term spending bill to prevent a partial government shutdown, and that discussions on Boebert would continue into next week. The North Carolina Democrat said the conduct is “reprehensible” and said he thinks censure would be “sufficient,” but committee removal is also on the table.

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