Republicans kicked Ilhan Omar off the Foreign Affairs Committee to get revenge on Democrats

From left, US Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Adam Schiff, and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speak at a press conference on committee assignments for the 118th US Congress, at the US Capitol Building on January 25, 2023, in Washington, DC. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Omar, who has a long history of being targeted by GOP attacks, has been accused in the past of invoking anti-Semitic tropes.

On Thursday, House Republicans voted 218-211 to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a three-term progressive, from the Foreign Affairs Committee. It’s an act that’s the latest GOP effort to secure political revenge for Democrats’ conduct during the last Congress.

Republicans have been eager to target certain Democrats and their committee assignments ever since Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) were removed from their committees in bipartisan votes last term, due to threats of political violence both espoused.

Previously, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had barred Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) from sitting on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. McCarthy has criticized Schiff for his handling of President Donald Trump’s first impeachment, and claims that Schiff advanced false information as part of it. He’s also pointed to connections that Swalwell had to a Chinese intelligence operative, though the lawmaker has not been accused of wrongdoing, per Axios. Swalwell and Schiff, both of whom were outspoken and high-profile critics of Trump, have denounced McCarthy’s moves as an act of “political vengeance.”

Since those seats were on a select committee, McCarthy was able to block both lawmakers on his own. However, a majority of the House had to vote on a resolution to remove Omar from Foreign Affairs.

All 211 Democrats present wound up opposing the resolution, while 218 Republicans voted in favor of it, and one Republican — Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) — voted present.

Republicans’ case against Omar sitting on Foreign Affairs centered on past statements she’s made that some have characterized as anti-Semitic, including describing US lawmakers’ support for Israel as “all about the Benjamins,” a comment that Democrats also condemned as trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes. Following outcries, Omar apologized for her remarks. Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Omar also cosponsored a resolution that condemned anti-Semitism and recognized “Israel as America’s legitimate and democratic ally.”

The focus on Omar’s committee assignments also marks the latest instance that the lawmaker, who is a Muslim American woman and Somali refugee, has been targeted and singled out by Republicans, including members of the far right.

Previously, Rep. Lauren Boebert levied Islamophobic attacks on Omar in late 2021; Boebert faced minimal condemnation from Republican leaders. Omar has also been the subject of racist attacks from Trump and the subject of violent imagery from Greene. This history has led some Muslim American activists to suggest the push to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee was just another play to nativist elements of the GOP base.

Democrats have also argued that Omar has been unfairly targeted again, and that her actions were wrongly equated with those of Gosar and Greene.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement. “This is both ludicrous and dangerous. In the last Congress, Republican members were moved from committees with a bipartisan vote for endangering the safety of their colleagues.”

Why Republicans want to remove Omar

McCarthy has made clear that he was interested in going after Omar ever since last year, when Republicans retook the House majority. At the time, Omar suggested the GOP’s efforts to disempower her were personal, and she was even more pointed in a recent interview with CNN.

Pointing to the repeated racist and Islamophobic attacks she’s faced from Republicans in the past, she said, “These members don’t believe a Muslim refugee, an African, should even be in Congress.”

This week’s resolution, which was introduced by Rep. Max Miller (R-OH), alleged that past comments Omar made are anti-Semitic and that they should disqualify her from sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee. She has “attempted to undermine the relationship between the United States and Israel, one of the most important strategic alliances we have,” Miller said in a statement.

McCarthy has said that he’s comfortable with Omar serving on other committees, but not Foreign Affairs, which she’s been for the last two terms.

Not all Republicans were initially on board with McCarthy’s plan. A few Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), initially resisted it because they argued that it would set a concerning example both parties could employ in the future. Others, like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), said they were unsure how to vote because they believe, as a New York Times editorial argued, Omar brings an important viewpoint to foreign policy discussions. In the end, nearly every Republican voted in favor of the resolution.

In addition to his specific grievances with Omar, McCarthy has emphasized that Democrats set a precedent by voting for the removal of Gosar and Greene from their committees last term. “What they have started cannot be easily undone. Their actions today, and the past, have forever changed the way the House operates,” McCarthy said in a floor speech following the vote to remove Gosar from committees. Although turnover on committees happens every term, the removal of specific members of the minority party by the majority party had not happened in modern times when Greene was stripped of assignments in 2021.

Democrats, however, have said the Greene and Gosar scenarios were different from Omar’s. In Greene’s case, she was disciplined for sharing posts promoting violence toward other lawmakers including a graphic of her holding a gun alongside images of members of the Squad. Greene was also criticized for racist comments and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories she shared, including by McCarthy himself. Gosar was stripped of committees after posting an animated video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and brandishing weapons at President Joe Biden.

In the two votes, Republicans voted along with Democrats for their respective removals; 11 Republicans supported Greene’s removal, while Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — Republicans who have been more willing than most to be critical of their party, and who are no longer in Congress — supported Gosar’s.

Democrats have emphasized that they took action against Greene and Gosar because Republicans refused to discipline extremist members themselves. In 2019, Republican leadership removed Rep. Steve King from committees, for example, after he condoned white supremacy. They’ve argued repeatedly that Omar’s actions are far from comparable.

“There’s no reason to remove Congresswoman Omar from her committees except revenge,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), a Democrat who has criticized some of Omar’s past comments, told Politico. “We removed Congressman [Paul] Gosar and [Marjorie] Taylor Greene because they threatened violence against other members, including death. That is not anything that Congresswoman Omar did.”

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