House Adopts Anti-Hate Measure in Bid to Calm Omar Controversy

(Bloomberg) -- The House voted to condemn anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry Thursday in a move Democrats hope will calm the controversy over remarks by first-year party member Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

The resolution, adopted 407-23, denounces white supremacists and discrimination against Jews, Muslims and other groups as "hateful expressions of intolerance" contrary to American values. The wording was broadened after some Democrats opposed an earlier version to more narrowly condemn anti-Semitism. Neither version mentioned Omar by name.

"It’s not about her, it’s about these forms of hatred," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters earlier in the day. Pelosi of California said she believed Omar "didn’t understand the full weight of her words” and added, "We’re not policing the speech of our members."

But the resolution includes wording specifically addressing 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.”

Omar, in a joint statement with Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Andre Carson of Indiana,, noted that the resolution including a condemnation of anti-Muslim bigotry is a historic first.

“At a time when extremism is on the rise, we must explicitly denounce religious intolerance of all kinds and acknowledge the pain felt by all communities,” they said in the statement. “Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress.”

The controversy drew attention away from the Democrats’ marquee package of legislation on ethics and ballot access, which is scheduled for a vote Friday. It also threatened 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 the November elections.

Trump’s Statements

When the earlier version condemning only anti-Semitism was circulated, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Omar’s progressive allies demanded to know why the party was condemning Omar when, they argued, statements by President Donald Trump and some GOP lawmakers had promoted bigotry.

The resolution passed Thursday, H.Res. 183, says that "whether from the political right, center or left, bigotry, discrimination, oppression, racism and imputations of dual loyalty threaten American democracy and have no place in American political discourse."

Omar voted for the measure. All 23 in opposition were Republicans, including Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, a member of GOP leadership, who said in a statement that the resolution was "a sham put forward by Democrats to avoid condemning one of their own."

Omar, 36, had 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.

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.

It was the second time the House has approved an implied rebuke of Omar for controversial comments. Last month, House members voted unanimously to add a Republican-sponsored amendment opposing anti-Semitism to a measure directing Trump to withdraw U.S. forces from the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen. Omar, who also voted for that amendment, had apologized for making comments viewed as anti-Semitic.

The Democrats’ fight is entering into presidential politics. At least four 2020 Democratic candidates for president issued statements Wednesday condemning anti-Semitism while expressing concern that Omar was being singled out. Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York sought to distinguish between anti-Semitism and legitimate questions about U.S. policy regarding Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

‘Legitimate Criticism’

Sanders, who is Jewish, said Americans mustn’t "equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel." Gillibrand decried "hypocrisy of the Republican Party" for going after Omar but also said the Minnesotan and others "should be able to express their views without employing anti-Semitic tropes about money or influence."

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. Instead, Democrats have argued over when it’s appropriate to rebuke a colleague for his or her remarks.

“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.”

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.”

‘Words Matter’

But Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, took the House floor 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.”

Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican, said, “Democratic leaders have attempted to rationalize and protect this individual.” He said Omar’s repeated comments show a pattern.

“You cannot temper justice any longer with mercy, with rationalization,” Biggs said. “Sooner or later you have to face what the awful truth is.”

Other Democrats said the decision to pursue the resolution focusing on anti-Semitism would have been a surrender to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby that supports the policies of Netanyahu, now out of favor with many younger voters in the party.

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.”

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 weighed in on Wednesday.

“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.

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