taking offense

Republicans call on Democratic leadership to strip Ilhan Omar of Foreign Affairs seat

Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik signed onto one of the letters

Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Representative Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) speaks during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 19, 2021 in Washington D.C.

House Republicans waded into the controversy surrounding Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and comments made by the Minnesota lawmaker this week that appeared to equate the U.S. and Israel with the terrorist groups Hamas and the Taliban. Omar walked back the comments on Thursday after pushback from a group of a dozen Jewish Democratic lawmakers.

Two groups of Republicans — 15 legislators in total — sent letters on Friday to Democratic leaders urging them to reprimand Omar by removing her from some or all of her committee seats. 

One letter, led by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) and addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), calls on Democratic leadership to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

That letter calls Omar’s comments “anti-American, antisemitic and bigoted” and says they employed “a truly heinous false equivalence.” It accuses her of “[stooping] to a new low” and of having a “track record of hate speech.”

“Given Representative Omar’s history of engaging in this type of conduct, House Democratic leadership must take immediate and meaningful action to remove her from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs,” the letter reads. “We consider anything less to be a form of complicity.”

Malloitakis’ letter was signed by GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Reps. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), August Pfluger (R-TX), Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Bill Johnson (R-OH). 

The other letter, led by Gimenez, is addressed to Pelosi and calls for Omar to be stripped of all of her committee posts, and also accuses her of “fueling antisemitic violence against Jewish communities.”

“[Omar’s Foreign Affairs seat] sends a dangerous signal to our allies and our adversaries alike that the United States tolerates anti-Semitism, that we no longer believe in the long-term mission of supporting free peoples and free markets, and that we no longer remain committed to combatting acts of terror against the United States or our allies,” it reads. “Congresswoman Omar’s views of American foreign policy are dangerous to our national interest.”

Gimenez’s letter was signed by Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Fred Upton (R-MI), Chris Jacobs (R-NY) and Young Kim (R-CA), as well as Malliotakis and Salazar.

“Speaker Pelosi has made it clear her belief is that it is the responsibility of each party’s leadership to hold Members of Congress accountable for their perverse comments and actions,” Gimenez said in a statement. “It is time for Speaker Pelosi to rise up to the standard she placed on herself and hold Congresswoman Omar accountable.”

Both letters also question the sincerity of Omar’s clarification on Thursday afternoon. Malliotakis’ letter claims Omar’s tweets earlier on Thursday reveal “a lack of contrition” and Gimenez’s letter accuses her of having previously issued “hollow and meaningless apolog[ies] with the sole purpose of appeasing her party’s leadership” in past controversies.

Omar faced criticism in 2019 for saying that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins” and accusing pro-Israel members of harboring “allegiance to a foreign country.” Before taking office, she accused Israel of having “hypnotized the world.”

Democratic leadership, including Pelosi and Hoyer, issued a joint statement on Thursday following Omar’s statement welcoming her clarification and making it clear that “false equivalencies” like the one Omar appeared to make are not acceptable. The leaders said they “welcome the clarification by  Congresswoman Omar,” in an apparent attempt to end the controversy.

Republicans are reportedly considering forcing a floor vote on Omar next week, potentially to strip her of her Foreign Affairs seat or censure her.

“I certainly don’t think that option [is] off the table,” Gimenez spokesperson Danny Javita told Jewish Insider, when asked if Gimenez would introduce or support a resolution to remove Omar from her committee seat. “Right now, we are focused on ensuring Speaker Pelosi holds herself to her own standards and holds Rep. Omar accountable.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on potential floor action.

It is not clear that Omar’s critics within the Democratic party — a group of the 12 Jewish Democrats who condemned her comments on Wednesday — would join with Republicans on a floor action around Omar.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), who led the group that condemned Omar, told JI on Thursday, “I am pleased Rep. Ilhan Omar heard our concerns about her tweet, issued a clarification and agrees with our point.”

This is not the first time Malliotakis has called on Pelosi to remove Omar from Foreign Affairs. The New York congresswoman did so in February after voting to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from her committee seats over a range of offensive and conspiratorial comments. Gimenez, Salazar, Upton, Kim and Kinzinger also voted to remove Greene from her committee assignments.

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