Democrats Plan Anti-Hate Resolution Amid Furor Over Omar Remark
(Bloomberg) -- House leaders scheduled a vote Thursday on a measure denouncing bigotry after some Democrats opposed an earlier resolution to more narrowly condemn anti-Semitism amid a controversy over remarks by first-year Democrat Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
The resolution doesn’t mention Omar by name and condemns white supremacists and discrimination against Jews, Muslims and other groups.
"It’s not about her, it’s about these forms of hatred," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference.
But the resolution includes wording designed to specifically address a comment Omar made last week by calling for the rejection of the “pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.”
The Minneapolis-area Democrat, one of two Muslim women elected to Congress in November, was criticized most recently after she reportedly took aim at "the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country," referring to Israel.
The House originally was planning to vote Wednesday on an anti-Semitism resolution. Heated objections from some Democratic lawmakers over singling out Omar -- though the original measure also didn’t mention her by name -- delayed a vote on the resolution and drew attention away from the party’s marquee package of legislation on ethics and ballot access. To quell the internal strife, leaders added language condemning other types of bigotry.
The battle threatens to fray Pelosi’s relations with some first-year lawmakers after she worked hard to win their support to become speaker as Democrats took control of the House in last November’s midterm elections.
Pelosi of California told reporters she believed Omar "didn’t understand the full weight of her words” and their cultural significance. "We’re not policing the speech of our members," the speaker said.
Omar, 36, apologized for previous comments derided as anti-Semitic, pledging to “combat hate of all kinds,” while defending her right to question U.S. foreign policy.
Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, took to the House floor Thursday to push for a strong resolution focused solely on anti-Semitism. “Words matter,” he said, and warned that those who are biased against Jewish people will hear Omar’s comments as a “dog whistle.”
“When a colleague invokes anti-Semitic language three times, then this body must condemn that anti-Semitism,” Deutch said, referring to previous comments from Omar about Israel supporters. "This shouldn’t be so hard.”
But members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Omar’s progressive allies, like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, demanded to know why the party was condemning Omar when, they argued, statements by President Donald Trump and some GOP lawmakers promote bigotry.
“The rise of hate in the last two and a half years is alarming — so whether it’s the anti-Semitism, whether it’s living while black and all the instances we’re seeing, I think it should be alarm for all of the country,” said Louisiana Representative Cedric Richmond. “It’s time for this Congress to step up and address it all.”
Democrats had hoped to use the week to highlight the ethics and ballot-access legislation, H.R.1, and their broadening investigations into Trump, announced on Monday. Democrats have been distracted from that bill, set for a vote on Friday, as members argue over when it’s appropriate to rebuke a colleague for his or her remarks.
Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, a freshman Democrat close to Omar, blamed the Trump administration for an increase in hateful rhetoric in the U.S. In a statement, she defended Omar and said threats of violence against her colleague are “unconscionable.”
Other Democrats said the decision to pursue the anti-Semitism resolution was a surrender to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby that supports policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now out of favor with many younger voters in the party.
‘It’s a Mistake’
“Nobody asked me, but I would’ve said it’s a mistake,” Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said.
“If it’s limited to anti-Semitism then it makes Congresswoman Omar’s point for her, that it would be a move to pacify AIPAC. Because we wouldn’t do that for anybody else,” Yarmuth said. “Whatever we do is going to look like we’re responding specifically to her, and to AIPAC, so I’m probably leaning against doing one. If we do one I’d prefer it be more expansive.”
The Democrats’ fight is entering into presidential politics. Two 2020 Democratic candidates for president issued statements Wednesday condemning anti-Semitism while expressing concern that Omar was being singled out. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and California Senator Kamala Harris sought to distinguish between anti-Semitism and legitimate questions about the U.S. policy regarding Israel.
Trump, who drew condemnation for saying that there were “very fine people on both sides” of clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, also has weighed in.
“It is shameful that House Democrats won’t take a stronger stand against Anti-Semitism in their conference. Anti-Semitism has fueled atrocities throughout history and it’s inconceivable they will not act to condemn it!” the president wrote on Twitter.
Since they won the House majority, Democrats have insisted that they can pursue bold policy and conduct thorough oversight of the Trump administration. The House Judiciary Committee this week requested documents from 81 individuals and entities in Trump’s orbit as part of an investigation of alleged foreign influence in the campaign and the president’s business dealings.
While most Democrats support aggressive oversight, they are divided on whether they have enough information to begin impeachment proceedings. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, another freshman Democrat who has come under fire for controversial remarks, has promised to file articles of impeachment, even though Pelosi has said she plans to wait for a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
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