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House Dems will take floor action to confront Omar’s latest Israel comments


Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats will take floor action Wednesday in response to controversial remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar about Israel, the second such rebuke of the freshman Democrat from party leaders in recent weeks.

Pelosi and other senior Democrats have drafted a resolution to address the controversy, which ballooned over the weekend following a public clash between Omar and senior Jewish lawmakers.

The resolution, which began circulating to members Monday night, comes after a backlash from top Democrats who accused Omar of anti-Semitism for referring to pro-Israel advocates’ “allegiance to a foreign country.”

The draft measure is four pages that largely details the history and recent rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S. but does not specifically name Omar, which had been an internal dispute among Democrats.

Instead, it condemns the "myth of dual loyalty," using the same language as top Democrats, like House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, who have condemned Omar in recent days.

If the House moves ahead with the vote on Wednesday as planned, it would be an unprecedented public rebuke of Omar, who was sworn into office just over 60 days ago. Omar’s office declined to comment about the Democratic resolution on Monday.

Yet these efforts by Pelosi and other Democratic leaders won’t be enough for Republicans, who want a more serious punishment for Omar.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other senior Republicans are considering offering a censure motion against Omar, according to GOP sources. Republicans may also formally demand that Democrats strip Omar of her seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, a move that Pelosi and other senior Democrats won’t take at this point.

Republicans see the furor over Omar as an opportunity to drive a wedge between Democratic supporters of Israel — long an unquestioned position inside both parties — and younger lawmakers who are highly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Omar’s remarks are just the latest in a series of comments she’s made that many of her Democratic colleagues say are blatantly anti-Semitic and must be retracted.

Democratic leaders are still debating whether to mention Omar by name in the resolution, according to multiple sources. Staffers for Pelosi and top Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), began drafting the resolution over the weekend as the confrontation between Omar and her colleagues unfolded on Twitter.

Two of the House’s most senior Democrats — Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and Lowey — called out Omar in public statements, demanding she apologize.

Lowey condemned Omar’s use of “offensive, painful stereotypes,” leading to a fight on Twitter as Omar dug in on her comments and was cheered by some on the left.

“Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman!” Omar wrote, later adding, “I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel, I have questioned it and that has been clear from my end.”

Staffers for several Jewish lawmakers, including Engel and Lowey, soon began working with Democratic leaders on the resolution. Aides for House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) along with Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and fellow Minnesota freshman Rep. Dean Phillips are also involved, according to multiple sources.

A resolution on the floor, regardless of whether it specifically mentions Omar, would be an extraordinary public admonishment from House leaders, particularly against a member of their own party, and speaks to the seriousness with which Democratic leaders view the ongoing controversy.

Just three weeks earlier, Pelosi and her top lieutenants issued a rare public rebuke of Omar’s previous remarks, which suggested pro-Israel groups were using their financial heft to shape U.S.-Middle East policy.

The announcement of floor action Monday came after a mounting backlash from outside groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which wrote a letter to Pelosi calling for a House resolution to reject what the organization called Omar’s “latest slur.”

“We urge you and your colleagues to send the unambiguous message that the United States Congress is no place for hate,” the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, wrote in a letter. Democratic staffers had already started working on the resolution before the group’s letter, according to one senior Democratic aide.

Nearly a dozen pro-Israel groups also urged Pelosi to oust Omar from her coveted spot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Engel, the chairman of that committee, called out Omar for a “vile anti-Semitic slur” over the weekend, but did not call for her to be removed from the committee.

Out of the two dozen other Democrats on the Foreign Affairs committee, nearly all did not respond or declined a request to comment on Monday. Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), who sits on the committee, wrote on Twitter that Omar should apologize for “hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

“Questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable,” Vargas wrote.

No congressional Democrats have publicly called for Omar to lose her seat on the Foreign Affairs panel, though GOP leaders have begun to pounce as Pelosi and her leadership team prepare yet another rebuke of Omar’s language.

“Resolutions are all well and good, but Speaker Pelosi is clearly afraid to stand up to Rep. Omar if she continues to reward her with a plum spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) wrote on Twitter Monday.

Omar has received support from prominent progressive figures, including fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — the first Palestinian-American congresswoman, who has also strongly argued that U.S. policy toward Israel should be overhauled. Another popular progressive, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), has also come to Omar’s defense.

In response to Lowey’s criticism, Tlaib defended Omar and said she had been “targeted just like many civil rights icons before us who spoke out about oppressive policies.”

Omar this year became the first Somali-American and joined Tlaib as the first Muslim women to serve in Congress.

In recent days, Omar has also been targeted by anti-Muslim attacks. On Friday, an Islamophobic poster displayed at an event sponsored by the West Virginia GOP appeared to link her to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The poster included a photo of the World Trade Center buildings on fire and a photo of Omar below it.

Omar and her allies have called out her Democratic colleagues for largely failing to come to her defense even as she faced growing criticism for her comments about Israel. Lowey did condemn the “gross islamophobic stereotypes” in her tweet on Sunday, as did top Democrats like Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.

Pelosi and Hoyer, however, have not responded.

Omar and Tlaib have relished making public their opposition to Israeli policies — from settlements in Palestinian territories to the lobbying influence of AIPAC — in a way that has struck a nerve with Jewish lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Omar’s positions have directly challenged a decades-old plank of U.S. foreign policy: unfaltering U.S. support for Israel.

“I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks,” Omar wrote on Twitter in response to Lowey.

Omar’s previous comments last month scrutinizing the political influence of AIPAC — when she tweeted the phrase, "It’s all about the Benjamins baby" — drew sharp scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

Omar apologized for that statement, though House Republicans still pushed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, without specifically naming Omar. The measure was overwhelmingly approved on the floor, including winning Omar’s vote.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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