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House censures Rep. Rashida Tlaib over response to Israel-Hamas war

Republican push gets some Democratic support, along with warnings of a slippery slope

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., joined a small group of lawmakers in the history of the House who have been censured by their colleagues.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., joined a small group of lawmakers in the history of the House who have been censured by their colleagues. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib became the second Democrat censured this Congress, after most Republicans and nearly two dozen Democrats voted to formally condemn comments she’s made about the war between Israel and Hamas.

The House voted 234-188 to censure Tlaib, who is one of three Muslims in Congress, for allegedly calling for the destruction of the state of Israel and “dangerously promoting false narratives regarding a brutal, large-scale terrorist attack.” The Michigan Democrat joins Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who was censured in June for allegedly spreading misinformation while investigating former President Donald Trump.

“I am the only Palestinian American serving in Congress, and my perspective is needed here now more than ever. I will not be silenced and I will not let anyone distort my words,” Tlaib wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, ahead of the vote Tuesday night.

Twenty-two Democrats voted with nearly all Republicans in favor of the censure resolution. Since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, Tlaib’s defense of Palestine and calls for a ceasefire have angered many of her colleagues.

At an Oct. 18 cease-fire rally on the National Mall, Tlaib repeated claims made by Hamas that Israel had bombed a hospital in Gaza. Tlaib refused to apologize for her statements after Israel instead blamed Hamas for the attack and after U.S. officials said the available evidence pointed to a failed rocket launch from Palestinian militants. The cause of the explosion remains contested. 

Tlaib has also defended the slogan “from the river to the sea,” which refers to the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. She described it as an “aspirational call for freedom” for people in Gaza and the West Bank. But groups like the Anti-Defamation League say it signals a desire to eliminate the Jewish state. Members of both parties have taken exception.

“What she said was absolutely abhorrent, and she’s inciting violence,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Greg Murphy said Tuesday. “Anybody who incites violence, which is what she’s done, I don’t care Republican or Democrat, should be censured.”

A group of 70 House Democrats issued a statement Tuesday condemning the use of the phrase, which they wrote was “used by many, including Hamas, as a rallying cry for the destruction of the State of Israel and genocide of the Jewish people.”

But some in both parties opposed the censure on the grounds that it violated Tlaib’s right to free speech. Others argued the whole exercise was a waste of time, especially amid a flurry of censure attempts this month that has resembled a tit for tat. 

California Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs on Monday introduced a resolution to censure Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast, whom she said equated Palestinian civilians with Hamas terrorists. And Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tried twice, both times unsuccessfully, to gin up support for her own censure of Tlaib. 

“The thing about these censure motions is that we have 10 days to fund the government to avoid a shutdown,” Michigan Democratic Rep. Hillary Scholten wrote on X on Tuesday evening. She said she disagrees with both Tlaib and Mast’s comments, but would not vote to censure either.

Speaking on the House floor Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Jim McGovern warned of a slippery slope. “I don’t agree with a lot of what people say around here. I think a lot of what my Republican friends say is offensive and even racist,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “But I don’t go around introducing censure resolutions. If we’re going to start censuring anybody who says something we don’t like, all we will do from now on is censure each other all day.”

Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes echoed those sentiments, warning against “letting cancel culture into our House.”

“We need to stop this now. In both directions. Sanctioning members of Congress for what they say is inconsistent with the freedom of expression protected by the 1st amendment AND the speech and debate clause,” Himes wrote on X.

A small number of Republicans similarly questioned whether Tlaib’s comments warranted censure. Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ken Buck of Colorado both said censuring a lawmaker over her speech could constitute a First Amendment violation.

Buck and Massie were among 23 Republicans who voted to table the initial attempt to censure Tlaib introduced by Greene last week. Some in that group took issue with Greene alleging that Tlaib led an insurrection at the Capitol.

After Tlaib spoke at the Oct. 18 rally on the National Mall calling for a cease-fire, some demonstrators entered the Cannon House Office Building rotunda and staged a sit-in. But the protesters remained largely peaceful and did not disrupt official legislative business. 

Georgia Republican Rep. Rich McCormick, who introduced the successful resolution to censure Tlaib that passed Tuesday night, was also one of the 23 who voted to table Greene’s earlier measure. McCormick steered clear of any mention of the word “insurrection,” which helped win over some of the earlier holdouts.

“The language is hugely different,” said Virginia Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith, who voted to table the first censure resolution but flipped for the second. “If I go out and give a speech and I get wound up, that does not make me responsible for everybody in the audience as to what they might do in the next 24-to-48 hours.”

The vote on the censure was originally expected Wednesday, but was moved up to Tuesday evening. Among the 22 Democrats voting in favor was Ritchie Torres of New York, who wrote on X, “Congress has a right to take a principled stand against hate speech calling for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish nation-state.”

Also voting yes were several Democrats with Jewish heritage and moderates facing tough reelection races next year, like Kathy Manning and Wiley Nickel of North Carolina.

Censure in the House is a kind of formal disapproval that carries no actual penalty. While historically rare, it’s become an increasingly common way for lawmakers to score partisan points.

Before Tlaib, just 25 members had been censured in the history of the House. Schiff was the most recent in June, and in 2021 Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar was censured 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. 

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