Dems mobilize to defend Omar in face of GOP defections
House Republicans are already facing defections over a leadership push to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar from her committees. Democrats plan to make the vote even more painful.
The Minnesota Democrat and her caucus allies have begun to mount a robust defense of the progressive “squad” member, who Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his allies have repeatedly threatened to kick off committees once the GOP took over the House. While they’ve focused on Omar’s past comments about Israel — some of which divided her own party at the time — Republicans loudly protested last Congress when Democrats booted a pair of conservatives from committees.
Democratic leaders are working to have no defections on the vote to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee when it comes up for a full House vote as soon as next week. And even Democrats who have vocally taken issue with her stance on Israel are now urging colleagues on both sides of the aisle to allow her to remain on the panel.
“She will be the first to tell you that we both disagree on a lot of things. I love Israel, and I will defend it wholeheartedly. She’s deeply troubled by the Israeli government. But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a voice on the Foreign Affairs Committee, even if it is painful for me,” said Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips — a Jewish Democrat who in the past spoke out against some of her remarks, for which she later apologized.
Asked about whether his Democratic colleagues would come to the same conclusion: “I think some are struggling, but I ultimately believe yes.”
Taking Omar off panels only requires a simple majority vote, but even that could prove difficult for a House GOP with a historically slim margin — and a second public defector emerging Tuesday, as Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) joined Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) in declaring that she wouldn’t vote for yanking Omar.
Democrats are privately lobbying other Republican members of the Foreign Affairs panel to oppose Omar’s removal. Centrist Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Omar’s expected counterpart on a Foreign Affairs subpanel, are seen as top prospects, according to several Democrats familiar with the situation. Smith declined to comment, citing his focus on a health issue.
Another panel member, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), was still undecided, he told POLITICO. And Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) was also undecided, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
If just two more Republicans promise to vote against booting Omar, it will mark a humiliating defeat for GOP leaders on a priority they’ve broadcasted for years — further rattling a conference that’s still trying to counter the narrative that it’s too divided to accomplish much over the next two years.
Powerful Democratic blocs like the Progressive Caucus, where Omar serves in leadership, and the Congressional Black Caucus are expected to rally behind the Minnesotan, a high-profile liberal who’s the regular subject of intense vitriol and even death threats. Omar had been evacuated to a secure location along with congressional leaders during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“It’s ridiculous,” Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said in a brief interview. “We support Rep. Omar. She’s an effective legislator who deserves to maintain her seat and we’re gonna continue to represent her and other members who are being used as political pawns in the Republican payback.”
The furor over Omar’s comments on Israel began just weeks after she came to Congress four years ago. Several of her fellow Democrats were enraged by tweets that appeared to lean into antisemitic tropes, implying that lawmakers’ support for Israel was driven by campaign donations from pro-Israel groups. Those tweets were deleted, and Omar apologized. (Phillips was one of several members who had a one-on-one conversation with her about the tweets, and he said they both made it a point to continue their relationship.)
She also drew conservative backlash later in 2019 for comments about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Omar has said her comments were taken out of context by Republican critics. Two years later, Omar caused another public rift within her party with comments that appeared to equate the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban while discussing war crimes — remarks she also quickly sought to clarify.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), one of several Jewish Democrats previously critical of Omar for the Hamas comparison, said: “There’s no reason to remove Congresswoman Omar from her committees except revenge. … 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.”
Asked if she thought all Democrats would be united behind Omar, Wasserman Schultz said, “Of course, but we’re just going to take this one step at a time.”
Democrats are emphasizing the differences between Omar’s situation and the two Republicans removed from committees in 2021 by separate, bipartisan House votes. Nearly a dozen Republicans agreed to remove Greene (R-Ga.) from her committee posts for incendiary rhetoric against her fellow members of Congress, and two Republicans voted to remove Gosar (R-Ariz.) from his committees over a violent social media post in which he threatened prominent Democrats.
Neither of the two Republicans who voted to remove Gosar remain in Congress.
“I think there’s a big difference between policy disagreements and inciting and encouraging violence against members of Congress,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), who sits on Foreign Affairs with Omar and fiercely disputed GOP claims that Democrats started the precedent of removing members from committees.
“As a Jewish member of Congress, I take this very seriously,” Jacobs added.
Phillips, for his part, added that it is a particularly tough decision for some members given the rise in harmful rhetoric: “Antisemitism is rearing its ugly head. I don’t think she’s antisemitic, I think she’s made some mistakes. … I believe that she’s learned from it, and I mean that sincerely.”
Democrats plan to name their own Foreign Affairs members in the coming days — an assignment Omar has said she expected Democratic leaders to grant by the end of this week. And given the GOP’s slim margins in the lower chamber, Democrats are betting they may be able to flip enough Republicans to sink any vote on stripping Omar’s committee assignments.
While some Republicans still haven’t said how they’ll vote, key moderates like Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) are signaling that the vote is a result of Democratic moves from the last Congress.
“I’ll listen to the debate and review comments she’s made. But, the Dems should not be surprised by this. Pelosi set a new standard on how the majority treats the minority. … Now the new minority will have to live by [the] same standard,” Bacon said in a statement.
Omar is not the only Democrat who will be stripped of a committee; Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both Californians, will also lose their spots on the House Intelligence Committee. The three members appeared on TV together Monday night, where they were dubbed the “McCarthy Three” by MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell. But Omar will be the only one whose committee membership will face a floor vote, as McCarthy has the power to remove Intelligence panel members on his own.
McCarthy on Tuesday rejected Schiff and Swalwell’s appointments to the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that both had put national security at risk. However, he demurred when asked earlier Tuesday if he had the votes to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The trio said in a joint statement Tuesday evening it was “disappointing but not surprising that Kevin McCarthy has capitulated to the right wing of his caucus, undermining the integrity of the Congress, and harming our national security in the process.”
The optics of singling out Omar — a woman of color and one of Congress’ first Muslim women members, who’s set to be the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs subpanel overseeing Africa — are likely to be a major part of Democrats’ messaging next week.
Olivia Beavers and Jordain Carney contributed to this report.