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Democrats clash over anti-Semitism resolution in response to Omar comments

House to vote on anti-bigotry resolution

Tensions between House Democrats spilled into public Wednesday as members debated whether the House should pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. The resolution came in response to recent comments by freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, who suggested pro-Israel political organizations "push for allegiance to a foreign country."

The Democratic leadership originally crafted a resolution for a vote this week that did not mention Omar by name but broadly condemned anti-Semitism, including accusations that Jews have "dual loyalty" to Israel. But the timing of the vote – as well as the resolution's contents – remained unclear as some black and progressive members argued that the resolution was unnecessary, or should at least contain broader condemnation of hateful ideology.

"We can make sure that we speak against anti-Semitism and we have to make sure we speak against Islamophobia," Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, said Wednesday morning. "We are so strongly against anti-Semitism. We have said that before. I don't know how many times we need to continue to say that in the face of, I think, some Republicans who just want to use this as a wedge issue but don't necessarily call out anti-Semitism on their own side."

She said that Omar was "under a microscope" for comments that her Republican colleagues have not faced when they make similar remarks.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan, said, "I think if we're gonna do a resolution, it must be inclusive of all the behavior that we find unacceptable." But, she added, "for us to go out just because a member said something and put a resolution – I just don't see the value in that."

Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the caucus had a "lively discussion" on Wednesday about the potential resolution and expressed frustrations about debating a resolution with no official language, as of now. 

"There is mixed feelings. There is mixed feelings around the Democratic caucus as to whether or not a resolution is the best thing to do."

Bass said she has not spoken directly with leadership on the resolution but plans to ask them about their next steps. 

For other members of the caucus, especially Jewish members, the resolution is an obvious and necessary response.

"It's the 21st century, and the fact that we have to put a resolution on the floor and spell out for people what anti-Semitism means is pretty outrageous," said Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "Because you have some members who either repeatedly or individually continue to use anti-Semitic tropes – and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it's unknowing – then apparently we do need to put a resolution on the floor that educates people about how harmful and hurtful anti-Semitism is."

Democratic leaders were originally hoping to vote on the resolution this week, but delayed it Tuesday night after agreeing to add more language condemning anti-Muslim bias, according to two Democratic aides. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Wednesday that leadership was still working on the language. Asked if the House would still vote, Speaker Pelosi replied, "I'm hoping so, when we are ready."

A Wednesday morning meeting of the caucus grew heated as times. A Democratic source in the room confirmed a story first reported by Politico that another freshman, Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Connecticut, complained that members were finding out from the media, rather than their leadership, about the official response.

"If you're not going to listen to me, I'm done talking," Pelosi said, as Hayes turned to talk to another member, before putting the microphone down and leaving the meeting.

Republican leaders have seized on Omar's comments – both now and last month when she Tweeted a suggestion that support for AIPAC, a pro-Israel advocacy group, was motivated by money – to excoriate the freshman representative and force the Democratic leadership to turn against her. GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, said Omar "embodies a vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel bigotry" and Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, called once again for her to be ousted from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to draw a contrast with the way his party condemned Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, over his recent remarks on white supremacy. King was removed from his committee slots.

"I'm proud of this conference, the way we've reacted to tough decisions recently…I listened to the speaker, I heard the words that she said to her conference on how tough votes on the floor. It should not be tough to stand up to this type of talk," McCarthy said.

But Hoyer said King's racist remarks had gone on for "years" before the GOP took any steps to address them. And he said he does not believe Omar is anti-Semitic.

Omar's allies, including her fellow Muslim representative, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, allege Omar is being unjustly targeted because she is a Muslim woman of color.

"Of course there is" a double-standard for women of color," Tlaib said. "All of us women of color can see that."

Asked about this potential double standard, McCarthy said the criticism has nothing to do with Omar's Muslim faith.

"She questioned whether somebody could have alliance and faith to America and have faith -- be of Jewish faith and still be an American in belief. No one should raise that question to her faith either, that's the point of what the argument is about," McCarthy said.

As they find themselves taking heat both from the left and from their Republican colleagues, other Democrats are suggesting that the GOP's criticism ring hollow because of how they've reacted to inflammatory statements by President Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that anti-Semitism had become "fashionable" among members of the freshmen class, prompting Democratic Conference Chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to ask, "When has he ever said anything about the hateful remarks that continue to flow out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?"

"So we're not gonna be lectured by Mitch McConnell on anything," Jeffries, a New York congressman, said.