WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House voted after raucous debate Thursday to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee, citing her anti-Israel comments and in a dramatic response to Democrats last session booting far-right GOP lawmakers over incendiary remarks.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was able to solidify Republican support against the Somali-born Muslims in the new Congress although some GOP lawmakers expressed reservations. The removal of lawmakers from House committees was essentially unprecedented until the Democratic ousters two years ago of hard-right Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona.
The 218-211 vote along party lines came after a heated debate in which Democrats accused the GOP of targeting Omar based on her race.
Omar defended himself, asking if anyone was surprised he was being targeted “because when you push power, power pushes back.” Democratic colleagues hugged her during the vote.
People are also reading…
“My voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world,” Omar said in a closing speech.
Republicans focused on six statements Omar made that “under the totality of the circumstances, disqualify her from serving on the Committee of Foreign Affairs,” said Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi, the incoming chairman of the House Ethics Committee.
“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 had “made mistakes” and used antisemitic tropes condemned by House Democrats four years ago. But that’s not what Thursday’s vote was about, he said, “It’s about political revenge.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., went further, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack as she called the GOP’s action part of one of the “disgusting legacies after 9/11: 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.”
McCarthy denied the decision was a tit-for-tat after the removals of Greene and Gosar under Democrats, though he warned in late 2021 that such a response might be expected if Republicans won back the House majority.
He noted Omar could remain on other panels, just not Foreign Affairs, after her anti-Israel comments.
Democrats rallied Thursday in Omar’s defense.
“This clearly isn’t about what Ilhan Omar said as much as who she is — being a smart, outspoken Black woman of the Muslim faith is apparently the issue,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.
Black, Latino and progressive lawmakers in particular spoke of her unique voice in the House and criticized Republicans for what they called a racist attack.
“Racist gaslighting,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. A “revenge resolution,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the progressive caucus.
“It’s so painful to watch,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who joined Congress with Omar as the first two female Muslims elected to the House.
“To Congresswoman Omar, I am so sorry that our country failed you today through this chamber,” Tlaib said through tears. “You belong to that committee.”
Omar was 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 joining 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!”
In a May 2021 tweet, she made reference to Israel as “an apartheid state” over its treatment of Palestinians.
Omar’s remarks sparked a public rebuke from then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who made it clear that she had overstepped.
“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.”
McCarthy 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, but the action on Omar required a House vote.
Several Republicans were skeptical of removing Omar wanted “due process” for lawmakers who had 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. One Republican, Rep. David Joyce of Ohio, voted present.
In the last Congress, several Republicans joined Democrats in removing Greene and Gosar from their committees.