Republicans oust Rep. Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs Committee

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WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Thursday voted to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the Foreign Affairs Committee — the latest skirmish in a long-running partisan battle over committee assignments

Speaker Kevin McCarthy initially had faced a handful of GOP defections, but by Thursday he and his team had whipped GOP members back in line, and 218 Republicans voted to back the resolution condemning Omar for past antisemitic comments and removing her from the committee.

One Republican, Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, a senior member of the Ethics Committee, voted present.

All 211 Democrats unified behind Omar, who gave an emotional and defiant floor speech before the vote that left many of her colleagues in tears.

“There is this idea that you are a suspect if you are an immigrant, or if you are from certain parts of the world or a certain skin tone, or a Muslim. It is no accident that members of the Republican Party accused the first black president, Barack Obama, of being a secret Muslim,” said Omar, a Somali refugee who made history as one of the first two Muslim American women elected to Congress.

“Well, I am Muslim,” she added. “I am an immigrant, and interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy? Or that they see me as a powerful voice that needs to be silenced?”

Republicans defended their action, arguing that Omar’s antisemitic tropes she made several years ago disqualified her from serving on Foreign Affairs. In 2019, Omar infuriated Democrats and Republicans alike — as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — when she tweeted that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other Jewish donors were paying politicians to back Israel, saying: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”

She also came under fire from fellow Democrats after they said she equated the “United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban.”

“How can someone not welcomed by one of our most important allies serve as an emissary of American foreign policy on the Foreign Affairs Committee?” said Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a former Trump White House aide who is Jewish and who authored Thursday’s resolution. “And given her biased comments against Israel and against the Jewish people, how can she serve as an objective decision-maker on the committee?”

Others argued that Democrats took similar actions two years ago when they voted to oust two Republicans from their committees over racist and violent social media posts, and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked two other Republicans from serving on the select Jan. 6 panel.

Those comments infuriated one of Omar’s closest allies, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who had been targeted in a social media post by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and who took to the floor Thursday to rail against Republicans.

“Consistency? There is nothing consistent with the Republican party’s continued attacks, except for the racism and incitement of violence against women of color in this body,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I had a member of the Republican caucus threaten my life and you all— and the Republican caucus rewarded him with one of the most prestigious committee assignments in this Congress.”

The vote to remove Omar almost didn’t happen. Last week, several Republicans voiced opposition to the GOP taking action against Omar, threatening to derail the resolution given their new, razor-thin majority.

But this week, those defectors began to fall in line. On Tuesday, Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., flipped her vote to yes after meeting with McCarthy and securing language in the Omar resolution that would give lawmakers a chance to appeal removal from committees.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who was on the fence, said he would back the resolution. On Wednesday, Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said he would change his vote to yes after talking to McCarthy, saying the speaker appeared open to a proposed rule change that would make it harder to kick lawmakers off of committees.

Moments before the vote, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, the lone GOP holdout, emerged from McCarthy’s office and announced she would also vote yes. Mace said she got a commitment from McCarthy to develop a better process to remove members from committees.

“We have a process today for [censure]. We have a process today to expel members from the Congress,” Mace told reporters. “We don’t have a process to remove members from their committee.”

Speaking to reporters after the vote, McCarthy said he had just spoken with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., about appointing members of both parties to a working group that would come up with a proposal spelling out the reasons why lawmakers could be removed from committees and the process for doing it. McCarthy said he would appoint Mace and Buck. 

“Moving forward, every single member of Congress has a responsibility to how they carry themselves. And it’s responsible upon us to let them know what that is,” the speaker said.

“So I’m going to put a group of Democrats that Hakeem will select and a group of Republicans, and we’ll work to clarify the rules and pass something for not only this Congress but future congresses as well.”

McCarthy argued that the House’s action didn’t amount to a “tit-for-tat” against Democrats — Republicans will allow Omar to serve on other committees, he said.

But Omar’s ouster represents just the latest example of how committee assignments have been used by both parties during the past two years to punish lawmakers who cross the line.

It started in February 2021, when House Democrats — and 11 Republicans — voted to boot far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from two committees for past social media posts that spread racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories and threatened violence against Pelosi and Obama.

Months later, Democrats also moved to censure and oust Gosar from his two committees after he tweeted an animated video depicting him killing Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.

That same year, Pelosi unilaterally blocked two of McCarthy’s picks — Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Jim Banks, R-Ind. — from the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack; McCarthy and Republicans then boycotted the special panel.

At the time, Republicans warned that Democrats would regret those decisions. When Republicans took back control of the House this year, they immediately reinstated Greene and Gosar to committees.

McCarthy then blocked two of Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ picks for the Intelligence Committee: former Chairman Adam Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats who played key roles in the Trump impeachment proceedings. 

And on Thursday, McCarthy made good on his promise to boot Omar from the Foreign Affairs panel as well.

“Rep. Omar certainly has made mistakes. She has used antisemitic tropes that were clearly and unequivocally condemned by House Democrats when it took place four years ago,” Jeffries told reporters.

But he called Thursday’s vote “not a public policy debate. It’s not about accountability. It’s about political revenge.”

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