back on track

House to vote on Omar’s Foreign Affairs removal

The House will vote on stripping Ilhan Omar of her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, following tweaks to the legislation

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) departs a news conference marking the 6th anniversary of the Trump administration's Executive Order 13769, also known as the Muslim ban, outside the U.S. Capitol on January 26, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Following days of uncertainty, House Republicans’ efforts to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the Foreign Affairs Committee appear to be back on track, with legislators expected to vote on the measure as soon as Wednesday.

In response to concerns and opposition from a handful of Republicans — enough to prevent the measure from passing — Republicans revised the legislation to include a provision that may allow Omar to appeal her removal to the House Ethics Committee, which would report to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who would ultimately decide whether to reinstate her. McCarthy has vowed for years to remove the Minnesota Democrat from the panel.

Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-IN) had been opposed to removing Omar from the committee, but said yesterday she’ll support the measure with the addition of this “due process” language. “I think setting a precedent of allowing an appeal process for the speaker’s and majority-party removal decisions is particularly important to freedom-loving legislators who usually are on the receiving end of issues like this,” she said in a statement yesterday.

Spartz is the only lawmaker who has publicly reversed her opposition to Omar’s removal. Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) said he still opposes McCarthy’s effort, and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) did not comment on the changes. But Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) said that the GOP has the votes needed, according to Axios.

The removal resolution, introduced by freshman Rep. Max Miller (R-OH), argues that Omar has “brought dishonor to the House” by invoking antisemitic tropes and “by her own words, has disqualified herself from serving on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, a panel that is viewed by nations around the world as speaking for Congress on matters of national importance and international security.”

House Ethics Committee Chair Michael Guest (R-MS), who spoke in favor of the resolution during last night’s House Rules Committee Hearing, argued that the “resolution is very narrowly tailored just to remove Ms. Omar from a single committee, which is Foreign Affairs. Many of her statements, if not all, relate to statements she made [about] people of Jewish descent, and those are issues that are taken up by the Foreign Affairs Committee.”

The legislation specifically cites Omar’s comments suggesting that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins,” that supporters of Israel are “push[ing] for allegiance to a foreign country,” and that Israel is an “apartheid state,” as well as remarks appearing to compare the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban. The legislation also makes note of past Democratic condemnations of these comments.

Omar has walked back her comments, claiming that she had not been aware of common antisemitic tropes, and has said her comments about Hamas and the Taliban were taken out of context. The resolution also references comments about 9/11 that Omar has argued have been taken out of context.

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM) argued in the Rules hearing that the legislation is “perhaps minimizing the horror of antisemitism right now, the horror of white nationalism that’s rising.” Leger Fernandez characterized the removal effort as a politically motivated bid to take revenge on Democrats for removing Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) from their committee seats.

“This is not about politics or engaging in a tit-for-tat with the Democrats,” Miller said in a statement introducing the resolution. “Members of Congress from across the ideological spectrum have condemned Congresswoman Omar’s comments… Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people.”

During the Rules hearing, Democrats challenged the idea that the changes to the legislation actually added any “due process,” as had been suggested by Spartz.

They noted that the language in question is nonbinding, argued that it violates Ethics Committee procedure and questioned whether the speaker has the authority to reinstate someone to a committee after they had been removed by a full House vote. 

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) largely agreed with Democrats, saying that the resolution contained a “vanishingly small amount — almost an infinitesimally small amount — of latent due process,” while Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) said that “this body doesn’t really have due process.” A Republican staffer offered a similar view, telling Jewish Insider that the language, “in no way begins an appeal procedure or guarantees her committee seat will be reconsidered. It’s non-binding and not actionable.”

Other Republicans responded that the appeals process outlined was more than was provided for Republicans in the previous Congress.

Democrats, particularly those otherwise critical of Omar, have expressed concerns in recent days about the majority party removing minority party members from committees. Democrats were the first to make such a move in the previous Congress with Greene and Gosar and some Democrats have recently appeared to express regrets about the way that process was handled.

Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) said during the Rules hearing, “I do concede that some of the warnings about the dangers” of removing Greene and Gosar offered by Republicans at the time “were prescient.”

Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA), who is now the ranking member of the Ethics Committee, said “I don’t think that it was the correct process” to remove Greene and Gosar without going through standard Ethics Committee procedures, and alluded to conversations with colleagues on the subject at the time. Wild was not a leader of the Ethics Committee at that time.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told JI yesterday he doesn’t think “Republicans should be telling Democrats who to put on committees.” Pressed on whether it was a mistake for Democrats to have done the same previously, Sherman paused before saying that “it was not consistent with the way the institution had been run in the past,” before adding that “there are obviously extreme circumstances.”

Democrats have also distinguished the Greene and Gosar cases from Omar by arguing that the two Republicans’ removals were a response to what they described as threats of and incitement to violence against fellow lawmakers, rather than their views or comments. 

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, called the Gosar and Greene removals “a workplace violence issue.”

“For Republicans to equate workplace violence with simply kicking off members because they don’t like their political views is a false equivalence… It’s a completely different issue, it’s like comparing apples and jets,” Lieu told JI last week. 

He added that Democrats who may be concerned about the precedent that process set “are wrong.”

“We should absolutely remove members who threaten violence,” Lieu said. “We did it before, we will do it again, and it should happen this term too if any member threatens violence.”

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