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Rep. Rashida Tlaib avoids censure over Israel criticism

Republicans help to table resolution introduced by Marjorie Taylor Greene

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., seen here in 2021, avoided censure on Wednesday.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., seen here in 2021, avoided censure on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib on Wednesday avoided becoming the second member of her party this Congress to be censured, as nearly two dozen Republicans broke ranks to help.

The House sidestepped the resolution introduced by firebrand Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, voting 222-186 to table it. The measure accused Tlaib of engaging in antisemitic behavior, supporting a terrorist group and “leading an insurrection” at the Capitol complex. 

The 23 Republicans who joined Democrats in voting to table the censure of Tlaib included several of her colleagues in the Michigan delegation and spanned the political spectrum, from conservative Freedom Caucus members to more moderate members of the House GOP.

“Pay attention to Members who vote with the Democrats to stand with pro-Hamas antisemite, Rashida Tlaib,” Greene wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, just before the vote. 

The move may be an indication that the House, led by newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is signaling that it would prefer to spend time on legislation, with some highly contentious spending bills ahead. Tabling a resolution effectively kills it. 

The censure attempt came in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 people and Israel’s reprisals on Gaza, causing thousands of deaths. The conflict in the Middle East has unleashed anger from supporters of both sides around the U.S., including in the House, where Republicans are readying a $14.3 billion bill to aid Israel.

That Tlaib’s censure resolution was instigated by Greene was itself a provocation to Democrats, some of whom think Greene has made not only antisemitic comments, but also Islamophobic ones.

“Tonight, we proved that standing up to bullies works. By not allowing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s repeated offenses to go uncatalogued or unchecked, we defeated a resolution riddled with lies and Islamophobia,” Vermont Democratic Rep. Becca Balint said in a statement. “Republicans must understand we will not put up with hatred, lies, or intimidation. We’ve seen how hateful rhetoric can turn into violence, and the words we speak on the floor of the House matters.”

Balint had introduced a resolution of her own to censure Greene, citing the Georgia Republican’s rhetoric in social posts and appearances at white nationalist events. That resolution had at one point been scheduled to go to the floor Wednesday evening in a case of tit-for-tit censure attempts.  

Censure in the House amounts to a symbolic rebuke and shame ritual. It carries no actual punishment, but requires the member to stand in the House well as the resolution is read and other members look on.

Greene’s resolution includes mischaracterizations of Tlaib’s words and falsely claims that she incited an insurrection on Oct. 18, when a group of protesters demanding a ceasefire entered the rotunda of a House office building and illegally demonstrated. More than 300 protesters were arrested, but they entered the office legally and did little material harm, a contrast to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot to stop certification of the election of President Joe Biden.

Tlaib criticized Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and spoke earlier on Oct. 18 at a rally on the National Mall. But she wasn’t present when the protesters moved down Independence Avenue to the office building across the street from the Capitol itself. 

Tlaib in a statement called Greene’s censure resolution against her “unhinged,” and “Islamophobic,” and said it “attacks peaceful Jewish anti-war advocates.”

Independent experts on antisemitism and Islamophobia lamented the censure vote as a sideshow that will do little to lower the national political temperature. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are tracking upticks in reports of hate speech, violence and threats against demonstrators critical of the Israel-Hamas war.

“The truth of the matter is Rep. Greene has a long proven Islamophobic history of attacking Muslim representatives for just being Muslim,” said Robert McCaw, government affairs director for CAIR, noting the Georgia congresswoman objected in 2019 to Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., swearing their oaths of office on the Quran. 

We don’t need bad-faith accusations of Islamophobia or antisemitism in a time of domestic and international crisis,” he said. “We’ve already had violent assaults against protesters, religious leaders, and just Americans living their daily lives for how they look and worship.”

Kevin Rachlin, vice president of public affairs for the liberal pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, called it a waste of lawmakers’ time. 

“We clearly have bigger things to deal with like the supplemental package,” he said, noting his organization is opposing the House Republicans’ standalone bill to appropriate over $14 billion in mostly weapons assistance for Israel because it wouldn’t include money for other national security priorities and would claw back billions of dollars in previously appropriated funding for tax collections. 

“It’s all political stunts,” he said.

The events on the floor Wednesday followed other recent attempts among members of Congress to curb their own members. Democrats stripped Greene of her committee assignments in 2021 in response to some of her allegedly antisemitic and violent rhetoric.

When Republicans took back the House in 2023, they responded by removing Omar, one of two Muslim women in Congress, from the Foreign Affairs Committee over statements she had made critical of Israel.

And in yet another measure aimed at an individual House member Wednesday, lawmakers voted to reject an attempt by New York Republicans to expel Rep. George Santos, who has been charged with wire fraud, identity theft and other felonies.

Lowering the threshold

Until recently, censure was a measure of last resort for misbehaving members. 

Twenty-five members of the House have been censured in total. The most recent was California Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff, in June, targeted by Republicans for his role in the impeachment of former President Donald Trump. 

Arizona Republican Paul Gosar was censured in 2021 for a social media post of a video of a cartoon version of himself killing a cartoon version of New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Before Gosar, it had been 11 years since the last censure. And just six members were censured in all of the 20th century.

But increasing censures, and censure attempts, are a sign of increasing partisanship in the House, according to Casey Burgat, legislative affairs program director at George Washington University.

“It’s not enough just to dislike the other party. You have to go after them and force a formal punishment within the halls of power,” Burgat said. “It’s a way of showing your brand and showing your partisan bonafides to your voters.”

It can also be a distraction. At least 14 censure resolutions have been introduced so far this Congress — not to mention expulsion resolutions, like the one targeting Santos — compared with 16 in the 117th Congress.

In a gridlocked House, coming off several weeks without a speaker and approaching another government funding deadline, it’s also a sign of inefficiency, Burgat said. The current funding legislation expires on Nov. 17.

“This is kind of a symptom, rather than a cause,” Burgat said. “When you are struggling to pass partisan priorities, you do what you can to draw attention to your beliefs, that stuff. When they’re struggling to legislate, this is a good way to talk about something else.”

In addition to Tlaib and Greene, Rep. Jamaal Bowman faces calls for censure or expulsion after the New York Democrat pulled a fire alarm in the Cannon House Office Building as the House prepared to vote on a stopgap spending bill. 

Bowman said it was a mistake, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and agreed to pay a fine. 

“Anytime you use something that is seen as a last resort, you make it more likely that it’s going to be used in the future,” Burgat said. “These are kind of these unwritten guardrails of democracy, that you will need to break glass in case of emergency, and the more times you scream emergency the threshold for what constitutes that emergency gets lower and lower.”

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