By SARAH FERRIS, JOHN BRESNAHAN and HEATHER CAYGLE
Monday March 4, 2019
Members of the Democratic caucus spent the weekend privately debating how to handle Rep. Ilhan Omar's latest controversy involving accusations of anti-Semitism. | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
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 are drafting a resolution to address the controversy, which ballooned over the weekend following a public clash between Omar and senior Jewish lawmakers.
The resolution, which is still being finalized, comes after a backlash from top Democrats who accused Omar of anti-Semitism for referring to pro-Israel advocates’ “allegiance to a foreign country.”
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 text of 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 Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey — called Omar out 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.” Omar declined to be interviewed for this story.
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 a rare public reprimand 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 rebukeof 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 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 Relations 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.
Omar has received support from prominent progressive figures, including fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Minn.) — 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, along with Tlaib, the first Muslim woman 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 Majority Leader Steny 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 scrutinizing the political influence of AIPAC last month — 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.