WASHINGTON — House Republicans voted after a raucous debate Thursday to oust Minnesota's Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the chamber's major Foreign Affairs Committee, citing her history of anti-Israel comments. It is the latest move in a dramatic escalation of tensions after Democrats last session booted far-right GOP lawmakers from committees over incendiary, violent remarks.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was able to solidify Republican support against Omar, the Somali-born Muslim woman, although some GOP lawmakers had expressed reservations. Removal of lawmakers from House committees was essentially unprecedented until the Democratic ousters two years ago of hard-right Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona.
The 218-211 vote, mostly along party lines, came after a heated, voices-raised debate in which Democrats accused the GOP of targeting Omar based on her race. Omar, who represents Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, defended herself on the House floor, asking if anyone was surprised she was being targeted, “because when you push power, power pushes back."
Democratic colleagues hugged and embraced their colleague during the vote.
“My voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world,” Omar vowed in a closing speech.
Republicans focused on six statements Omar has made that “under the totality of the circumstances, disqualify her from serving on the Committee of Foreign Affairs,” said Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss.
“All members, both Republicans and Democrats alike who seek to serve on Foreign Affairs, should be held to the highest standard of conduct due to the international sensitivity and national security concerns under the jurisdiction of this committee,” Guest said.
The resolution proposed by Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a former official in the Trump administration, declared, “Omar’s comments have brought dishonor to the House of Representatives.”
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Omar has at times “made mistakes" and used antisemitic tropes that were condemned by House Democrats four years ago. But that's not what Thursday's vote was about, he said.
“It's not about accountability, it’s about political revenge," Jeffries said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took it one step further, saying that the GOP's action was one of the “disgusting legacies after 9/11," a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack — "the targeting and racism against Muslim-Americans throughout the United States of America. And this is an extension of that legacy."
She added, “This is about targeting women of color."
In a statement, Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin accused the House GOP of trying to "silence" Rep. Omar. "As a Muslim woman and a refugee, Representative Ilhan Omar brings a tremendously important perspective to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Republican decision to remove her from that committee is partisan politics at its worst. Instead of working to improve people’s lives, Republicans are trying to silence Representative Omar because they are afraid of who she is and what she stands for," he said.
“No matter what political games Republicans play, I am confident that Representative Omar will continue to lead in the fight for justice at home and abroad with integrity, courage, and tenacity," Martin added.
Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She is also the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber after floor rules were changed to allow members to wear head coverings for religious reasons.
She quickly generated controversy after entering Congress in 2019 with a pair of tweets that suggested lawmakers who supported Israel were motivated by money.
In the first, she criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote, invoking slang about $100 bills.
Asked on Twitter who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded, “AIPAC!”
The comments sparked a public rebuke from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who made clear that Omar had overstepped.
She soon apologized.
“We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Omar’s tweets were among several remarks highlighted in the resolutions seeking her removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, argued for excluding Omar from the panel during a recent closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans.
“It’s just that her worldview of Israel is so diametrically opposed to the committee’s,” McCaul told reporters in describing his stance. “I don’t mind having differences of opinion, but this goes beyond that.”
McCarthy has already blocked Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, from rejoining the House Intelligence Committee once the GOP took control of the chamber in January. While appointments to the intelligence panel are the prerogative of the speaker, the action on Omar requires a House vote.
Several Republicans skeptical of removing Omar wanted “due process” for lawmakers who face removal. McCarthy said he told them he would work with Democrats on creating a due process system, but acknowledged it’s still a work in progress.
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