House Democrats had a tense closed-door caucus meeting on Wednesday, after one lawmaker accused another of saying a "shit thing" about Muslims.
The kerfuffle erupted after Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) described a virtual vigil she attended in the wake of this weekend's Hamas attack, Politico reports. Wild explained that she didn't want any religious community to feel ostracized, and noted that Muslim leaders weren't present at the event to condemn the attack, when Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) - a prominent Jewish Democrat and Israel hawk, loudly interjected.
Accounts differ, however, on whether Gottheimer was referring to Muslims or made an ill-timed remark in an unrelated conversation, with some attendees overhearing him saying “because they’re all guilty” and others saying he stated “because they should feel guilty.” A spokesperson for Gottheimer strongly denied that he was talking about Muslims.
"Congressman Gottheimer never said anything about Muslims in today’s caucus meeting, a community he cares deeply about. Congressman Gottheimer said that the members of Congress who have not yet condemned Hamas terrorists should feel guilty," said his spokesperson Chris D'Aloia.
"Joshua!" one Democratic lawmaker shouted out in response to his remarks.
Gottheimer insisted later that his comments were taken out of context, and made as part of a separate conversation about condemning Hamas. He has notably complained in recent days that there's been insufficient criticism of Hamas for the attack.
Rep. Greg Casar (D-TX), a first term progressive lawmaker, then confronted Gottheimer - with Cesar telling Gottheimer that his remarks were a "shit thing to say," and were "shameful," after the two argued back and forth, according to six witnesses.
Amid the spat, Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other progressive lawmakers were spotted leaving the party meeting together.
The dustup shined a bright light on the longtime fracture within the Democratic Party over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s a divide that the party had largely skirted following the bloody surprise terrorist attack this weekend — but one that threatens to roil Democrats further as the war in the Middle East progresses in the weeks ahead. -Politico
Gottheimer's spokesman then peddled in unconfirmed reports that Hamas beheaded babies.
"Congressman Gottheimer is furious and deeply disappointed with Members of Congress who have yet to condemn Hamas terrorists for brutally murdering, raping, burning alive, kidnapping, torturing, and beheading innocent babies, children, women, men, and grandparents — including Americans," said D'Aloia, adding "Congressman Gottheimer said that those members who have not condemned Hamas terrorists should indeed feel guilty. Of course, Congressman Gottheimer doesn’t blame innocent Palestinian civilians — he blames the terrorists."
The White House has been casting a 'very public shadow' of support for Israel - with President Biden on Tuesday forcefully denouncing Hamas' attack as "pure, unadulterated evil," and pledging that the United States "has Israel's back."
While a handful of progressive lawmakers have publicly pushed for a cease-fire, de-escalation and even stripping government support from Israel, most Democrats in Congress have largely stayed behind the president as he sidestepped those calls.
Biden also has urged lawmakers in both parties to provide emergency funding for Israel and condemned Hamas for the killing of more than 1,000 Israelis and the kidnapping of hundreds more.
Several progressive and more establishment-minded Democrats said that party unity has been palpable so far due in part to the gruesome nature of the attacks on Israel that took place. -Politico
"It was so grotesque that it ended up uniting people even if they have different views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the exception of a few of the [Democratic Socialists of America] chapters, you really haven’t seen any difference of opinion when it comes to this," one House Democrat told the outlet.
"There are a couple of people, a handful of people, who are not part of the present, unanimous posture of progressives and Democrats," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street. "That’s where we are today in the immediate aftermath of this attack. I’m not going to say that’s where things will be in a week, two weeks, three weeks, but that’s where we are today."
Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-MI) declared in a Wednesday statement that the Democratic Socialists of America's "inability to look at what has happened as terrorism is very upsetting and shocking," and that he would be leaving the DSA over their stance on Israel.
I renounce my membership in the DSA pic.twitter.com/rtpxStKW2Q— Congressman Shri Thanedar (@RepShriThanedar) October 11, 2023