U.S. Politics

House passes anti-hate measure amid Dem tensions

The House passed a measure broadly condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred on Thursday after remarks by Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarThe 2020 candidates who are defending Omar Warren defends Omar from threats of violence over comments on Israel Dems under fire put brakes on Omar resolution MORE (D-Minn.) unleashed a torrent of debate in the Democratic caucus, underlining tensions in the party.

The measure condemning "anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry" easily passed the lower chamber in a vote of 407-23, with 23 Republicans opting to vote against the resolution.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking House GOP leader, joined nearly two dozen other Republicans in voting against the measure. Reps. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas), who also voted against it, had delivered floor speeches lamenting that the language in the bill had been watered down to the point of taking away attention from Omar's remarks.

The vote had been delayed earlier in the week as Democrats fought over what should be included in the measure, with additional tweaks to the text being made as late as Thursday afternoon.

Lawmakers passed the resolution amid flaring tensions over comments by Omar widely panned as anti-Semitic because they appeared to question whether people advocating for Israel were more loyal to that country than the United States.

The House-passed measure did not specifically mention the freshman congresswoman by name.

While critics argued Omar should have been directly named in the resolution, a number of progressives and members of key minority caucuses stood by her this week, balking at the suggestion she be singled out and calling for the language to be broadened to include the condemnation of other forms of bigotry.

The final version of the resolution “encourages all public officials to confront the reality of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry, as well as historical struggles against them, to ensure that the United States will live up to the transcendent principles of tolerance, religious freedom, and equal protection as embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the first and 14th amendments to the Constitution.”

It also includes language condemning Japanese internment camps in World War II, the century-old Dreyfus affair in France, former President Kennedy being questioned over Catholicism and the white supremacist events in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

Democrats made a last-minute change Thursday to add Latinos, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the LGBT community to the list of "traditionally persecuted peoples" targeted by white supremacists. The previous version unveiled earlier in the day only included "African-Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, immigrants, and others."

The measure was brought to the floor a week after Omar sparked renewed controversy with remarks about Israel that members of her own party, including a number of presidential candidates, condemned.

"I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” she said during a forum last week.

While the measure that passed Thursday received broad support on the floor, a handful of lawmakers voiced disappointment that the measure didn't solely condemn anti-Semitic remarks, which spurred creation of the resolution itself.

The lawmakers, including several Jewish Democrats, made the case that anti-Semitism is a serious enough issue to warrant a standalone bill.

"Why are we unable to singularly condemn anti-Semitism?" Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said on the floor earlier in the day. "Why can't we call it anti-Semitism and show we've learned the lessons of history?”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on the floor shortly before the vote Thursday evening that Omar's comments "touched a very real, very raw place for me."

"And my desire for the House to go on record again specifically condemning anti-semitism wasn't a desire to single the gentlewoman out or to stifle debate on U.S. Policy toward Israel," Engel said. "But it was a desire and need to say that certain words, no matter who utters them, have no place in our public discourse and indeed can be very dangerous."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it was critical that lawmakers condemn rhetoric accusing supporters of Israel of dual allegiance, but said he also felt it was important to come out against other forms of discrimination.

"Accusations that Jews bear dual allegiance because of support for Israel or concerns for its safety are false and they are also hurtful. Comments that must be exposed for what they are – bigotry. They elicit fear and uncertainty in the individuals and communities they target," he said on the floor ahead of the vote. "In much the same way, we have also seen vile examples of hatred aimed at painting Muslim Americans as somehow disloyal to our nation, or not fully belonging. Causing similar feel offings insecurity and distress."

Other lawmakers questioned why it took a week to craft the resolution coming out against the inflammatory comments from Omar.

"I am here with my friend from New York debating a resolution that all of us should have learned in kindergarten. 'Be nice. Don't hate,'" Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said on the floor.

"This resolution doesn't need to be seven pages — It's just wordy," he said, noting that he supported the bill. "We don't need to hate. It doesn't matter where it comes from."

By bringing the bill to the floor Thursday, Democratic leaders were able to tamp down the possibility of Republicans further highlighting divisions in the Democratic caucus by using a procedural motion on a landmark election reform bill scheduled for a vote Friday.

As it stands, that bill — designated as H.R. 1 to underscore its importance — has largely been overshadowed all week by the controversy surrounding Omar.

GOP lawmakers — who managed to overwhelmingly pass a motion to recommit that amended a resolution on Yemen to include language condemning anti-Semitism earlier this year in response to a separate incident involving Omar — called for Democrats to take a harder line with the freshman representative.

Top Republicans including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) argued Democrats should have responded in a similar fashion to how they penalized Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) following his controversial remarks on white supremacy.

King was removed from his committee assignments after his remarks. 

“The real issue is why does [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi (D-Calif.) continue to allow Omar to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee? If Pelosi Is truly against the anti-Semitic comments that Omar continues to make then she needs to remove from the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Scalise told reporters Wednesday.  

“And that's the only real action that will prove that she's willing to stand up to that kind of offensive behavior."

But Democratic leaders have asserted they don’t believe likening King and Omar is a fair comparison.

"I don't believe it was intended in an anti-Semitic way. But the fact is if that's how it was interpreted, we have to remove all doubt," Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.


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