House Democrats erupted in protest over plans to vote this week on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism - an indirect sanction on freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in response to the suggestion that supporters of Israel have "allegiance to a foreign country."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said on Wednesday that there may not be a vote this week on the measure, saying "We’re discussing what is the best way to address it," according to the Washington Post.
Walking into them meeting, a confident Pelosi told the media that the Omar situation "would be resolved," adding "I think you make more of it than there is . . . to be very honest with you — the press loves to foment unease in the Democratic Party but we are very united" regarding the Democratic House agenda.
Moments later, all hell broke loose:
Inside the meeting, according to multiple people present, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to keep her caucus focused on a planned Friday vote on a sweeping campaign and elections reform bill. She acknowledged “internal issues,” according to notes taken by a Democratic aide present, and urged members not to “question the motivations of our colleagues.”
But moments later, multiple House members stood up to challenge the decision — endorsed by Pelosi and the rest of the House Democratic leadership — to move forward with a resolution condemning religious hatred. Initially the measure targeted only anti-Semitism, with some Democrats pushing for a direct rebuke of Omar, but by Tuesday night — facing backlash from members not on board with the plan — leaders decided to expand it to include anti-Muslim bias. -Washington Post
Several Democrats those who took issue with the measure were members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who opposed even an indirect rebuke of Rep. Omar when they should be focusing on how to attack President Trump.
"I think there’s a big rise in anti-Semitism and racism, and that’s a bigger conversation we need to be having." said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA). "But it starts at 1600 Pennsylvania. It doesn’t start with one member out of 435 members of Congress."
"Why are we doing this?" asked Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), who said that a resolution would be "redundant and unnecessary," likely referring to the January 11 rebuke of Omar after she accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) of contributing to pro-Israel politicians.
"We’ve individually and collectively already responded to the fact that we oppose all ‘-isms’ that do not treat people in this country fairly and justly," said Coleman. "To continue to engage in this discussion is simply an opportunity to give both the media and Republicans distractions from our agenda. We’ve got important work to do."
Other members, including Richmond, said it was unfair that the caucus would take action against one of its own members while other GOP lawmakers have uttered offensive remarks with no retribution. This week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) accused Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of anti-Semitism for a tweet referring to Tom Steyer, a Democratic donor of Jewish descent as “Tom $teyer,” and Richmond and several other members mentioned Trump. -Washington Post
"We need to have equity in our outrage," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) who said after the meeting that she was focused on "the occupant of this White House who is seeding every form of hate, emboldening it with racist rhetoric and policies. That is who we all need to be focused on, and this is a distraction."
According to those present, Omar attended the meeting but did not speak.
Jewish lawmakers, meanwhile, insist that the House needs to pass the resolution condemning anti-Semitism in response to Omar's remarks.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who is among the Jewish members involved in crafting the initial resolution, rose to defend the resolution and, according to one member present, grew emotional. He said his colleagues needed to understand that these sort of words were hurtful to people like himself who had dealt with them all their lives. -Washington Post
President Trump, meanwhile, capitalized on the splinter among House Democrats, tweeting Wednesday afternoon: "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!"
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 6, 2019
Other GOP leaders piled on as well - accusing Democrats on Wednesday of tolerating anti-Semitism by refusing to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee - which as the Post notes, has jurisdiction of the relationship between the United States and Israel.
"They should stop empowering her disgusting hatred before it turns into horror," said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) - House Republican Conference chairwoman.
"It should not be tough to stand up against this type of talk," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who compared the Democrats' decision to that faced by Republicans in the case of Rep. Steve King (R-IA) after he publicly questioned why the phrase "white supremacy" is offensive. King was immediately stripped of his committee assignments - something the Democrats refuse to do with Omar.
"I’m just wondering, within their conference, if they’re willing to lead," added McCarthy.
For Democrats, the internal divide over how to handle Omar’s statements has been exacerbated by members targeting each other on Twitter, where much of the public debate has played out — both among Democrats and between members of the two parties.
At one point during the meeting, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a close Pelosi ally, pleaded with Democrats: “Everyone stop tweeting!” -Washington Post
Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said afterward that by fighting publicly, Democrats were playing into GOP hands.
"We are now in the majority, and Republicans have an intent to divide us whenever they can," said Rep. Jayapal, adding that her colleagues should find "a process where these things can play out in private and not in front of everybody."
On Tuesday, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) was publicly targeted by Democratic Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who knocked him for saying that questioning the US-Israel relationship should be out of bounds.
Vargas shot back on Wednesday, saying "She could have come down the hall and asked me what my opinion is. That would have been fine," adding "We have a very different opinion here, I believe. To question someone’s loyalty because they’re Jewish, I think, is terrible. It’s something that we shouldn’t question at all."