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House votes to remove Omar from Foreign Affairs panel as Democrats cry hypocrisy and ‘racism’

GOP Rep. Lawler calls past comments ‘appalling, wrong and disqualifying’

The House on Thursday voted to remove Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The House on Thursday voted to remove Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected 3:50 p.m. | Over Democratic cries of hypocrisy and “revenge”-seeking, House Republicans on Thursday stripped one of the chamber’s few Muslim female lawmakers of a coveted committee assignment, arguing some past comments she uttered were laced with antisemitism.

In a party-line vote, the House approved a resolution, 218-211, to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

As a freshman member in 2019, Omar appeared at different points on social media and in public remarks to refer to the influence in U.S. politics of money from wealthy Jewish Americans, a common antisemitic trope. Many House Democrats strongly objected at the time. Omar apologized and the caucus has largely moved on since then — but not House Republicans.

“Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted?” Omar said in an at times emotional Thursday floor speech, which was attended by large numbers of the House Democratic caucus who cheered her remarks at different points. “Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy or that they see me as a powerful voice that needs to be silenced? Frankly it is expected because when you push power, power pushes back.”

Republicans in their expulsion resolution cited House Democratic leaders’ previous criticisms of Omar’s remarks to justify their extraordinary action.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., promised in 2021 to boot Omar off the panel following her controversial comments, if the GOP took control of the chamber. He and other Republicans blasted her for her Israel-criticizing remarks.

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., a Foreign Affairs member, called Israel a “beacon” of democracy, and said lawmakers should be “celebrating not demeaning” the longtime U.S. ally. He called Omar’s past remarks “appalling, wrong and disqualifying.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, during his weekly press conference Thursday morning, said the caucus had previously addressed the matter of Omar’s antisemitic comments, which “were clearly and unequivocally condemned by House Democrats when it took place four years ago.”

“What’s going to take place on the floor today is not a public policy debate. It’s not about accountability. It’s about political revenge,” the New York Democrat added. “There has been accountability. Ilhan Omar has apologized. Is Ilhan Omar perfect? No. None of us are.”

Democrats rejected as false equivalence the GOP argument that they were merely following the model established in the 117th Congress on mostly party-line votes to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., from their committees after the two lawmakers’ appeared to endorse violence against Democratic lawmakers.

“We take violent threats seriously because we’ve lived them,” Jeffries said. “The House Republicans should have one standard, equally applied. Our standard was violent rhetoric from sitting members of Congress directed at other members of Congress … in the aftermath of a violent insurrection.”

For her part, Omar did not mince words in a floor speech before the vote.

“Who gets to be an American? What opinions do you have to have to be counted as American? That is what this debate is about,” the Somali-born Omar said. “There is this idea that you are suspect if you are an immigrant, or if you are from a certain part of the world, of a certain skin tone, or a Muslim.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., delivered a fiery floor speech in defense of Omar, accusing House Republicans of “racism” against Muslim members and minority members.

“There is no consistency with the Republican Party’s continued attack except for the racism and incitement of violence against women of color in this body,” Ocasio-Cortez said, slamming Republican leaders for, in her words, “rewarding” some conservative members who have pushed antisemitic conspiracy theories with prized committee assignments.

Some senior Republicans sounded resigned about the whole matter.

Senate GOP Whip John Thune, R-S.D., on Wednesday told reporters he had warned that when House Democrats moved to remove GOP lawmakers from their committees in the last Congress, it would put them on a “slippery slope when you start doing that. Then turnabout becomes fair play.”

In December, a coalition of mostly liberal Jewish American and pro-Israel organizations released a joint statement condemning McCarthy’s promise to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs panel.

“As Jewish American organizations, we oppose Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s pledge to strip Rep. Ilhan Omar of her House Foreign Affairs Committee seat based on false accusations that she is antisemitic or anti-Israel,” J Street, New Israel Fund, Bend the Arc and other groups said in a statement. “We may not agree with some of Congresswoman Omar’s opinions, but we categorically reject the suggestion that any of her policy positions or statements merit disqualification from her role on the committee.”

The Jewish groups also charged McCarthy with acting in a hypocritical manner, given the fact he and some of his own top deputies have also spread antisemitic tropes.

“McCarthy’s pledge seems especially exploitative in light of the rampant promotion of antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories by him and his top deputies amid a surge in dangerous right-wing antisemitism,” according to the statement. “He posted (and later deleted) a tweet charging that George Soros and two other billionaires of Jewish descent were seeking to ‘buy’ an election. His newly elected Whip Tom Emmer said the same people ‘essentially bought control of Congress.’ Meanwhile, Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik has promoted the deadly antisemitic ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory.”

On Thursday, Jeffries also called out GOP leaders for not denouncing, as Democrats did four years ago, members of their own party for such comments. Instead, he said, they rewarded their own members with plush committee assignments. “There’s been no accountability for their members,” he said.

As an example, Jeffries cited a September 2021 tweet from Rep. Thomas Massie in which the Kentucky Republican wrote “How is this not foreign interference in our elections?” in response to criticism from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent pro-Israel lobbying organization, about his voting record. That tweet appeared to refer to another common antisemitic trope of dual-loyalty.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., cited Republican tweets defending Kanye West, who has been sharply critical of Israel, and told the GOP side to “look in the damn mirror” when searching for antisemitism in the chamber.

Omar, who has also been on the receiving end of Islamophobic remarks from Republicans, including Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, said removing her from the Foreign Affairs Committee wouldn’t stop her from speaking out about U.S. foreign policy, particularly when she disagrees with it.

“What is the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee? It is not to co-sign the stated foreign policy of whatever administration is in power,” she said. “It is about oversight, to critique and to advocate for a path forward. But most importantly, it is to make the myth that American foreign policy is moral a reality.”

The removal of Omar from the committee may bring to an end, for now, a period of time when a sitting committee member was willing to use that high-profile platform to offer frank criticism of the double-standards and at times harms committed by U.S. foreign policy

“The 50 other members of the Foreign Affairs Committee piously condemn the misdeeds of America’s foes. She asks uncomfortable questions about America’s own,” wrote Peter Beinart, a journalism and political science professor at the City University of New York in a Monday op-ed for the New York Times.

“In a hearing in May 2021, about Chinese atrocities against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, only Ms. Omar noted that the United States had itself imprisoned 22 Uyghurs at Guantánamo Bay and that China’s president had reportedly cited America’s ‘war on terror’ as a justification for his own crackdown,” Beinart added.

Following the vote, House Foreign Affairs member Ken Buck, R-Colo., was overheard in an elevator calling it the “stupidest vote in the world.” Fellow Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, agreed and added that all it does is make Omar a “martyr.” They both also agreed that it was simply a retaliatory vote in response to Democrats removing certain Republicans from committees in the 117th Congress.

Buck and Simpson urged fellow passengers in the elevator to not let leadership know their thoughts.

This report was corrected to accurately reflect comments by Sen. John Thune about the removal of Republican lawmakers from committees in the previous Congress.

Lindsey McPherson, Mark Satter and Mark Burnett contributed to this report.

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