Politics & Policy

Asked about Ilhan Omar, Democrats Turn Focus to GOP

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Capitol Hill, February 27, 2019 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
If their comments are any indication, House Democrats aren’t ready to jettison Ilhan Omar the way Republicans jettisoned Steve King.

House Democrats appear to have scuttled plans to pass a resolution this week condemning anti-Semitism after members rebelled at a caucus meeting on Wednesday.

The measure, which was being considered following freshman Democrat Ilhan Omar’s comments about pro-Israel Americans having an “allegiance to a foreign country,” initially “targeted only anti-Semitism, with some Democrats pushing for a direct rebuke of Omar, but by Tuesday night — facing backlash from members not on board with the plan — leaders decided to expand it to include anti-Muslim bias,” the Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Rachel Bade reported. But on Wednesday, Democratic leaders said it was unclear that any resolution would come to the floor this week after many members of their caucus said that it was unfair to single out Omar or specifically condemn anti-Semitism without condemning many other forms of bigotry — and the Republican party too.

“I think my real concern here is that there’s a disturbing pattern of these remarks coming from the Republican party. It’s not treated the same way,” congresswoman Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez told National Review Wednesday afternoon when asked if the House should vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the wake of Representative Omar’s remarks.

“I think there ought to be a resolution that ought to be condemning all the -isms,” Democratic congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri told National Review. “Just think about it, we’ve had people calling people names probably more over the last two years than over the last 20. If we’re going to start condemning, let’s condemn sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, everything.”

But Republican leaders stripped Iowa GOP congressman Steve King of his committee assignments, and the whole House passed a resolution specifically naming King and condemning white nationalism just two months ago. “Whereas, on January 10, 2019, Representative Steve King was quoted as asking, ‘White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?’” the resolution began.

So what’s the difference between Omar and King? When I posed that question to Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday afternoon, she replied: “How many years was Steve King — ,” cutting off her remark mid-sentence as she entered an elevator. Asked if she cared to finish the thought, the New York Democrat declined. King has had a history of making degrading remarks about illegal immigrants, and those remarks became increasingly worse over the years. In November, King referred to immigrants “dirt” at a campaign event, as Adam Rubenstein reported.

Omar’s comment isn’t her first offense, either. But Democratic leaders reject the comparison to King.“I don’t make an analogy between Steve King and Congresswoman Omar,” House Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t think she’s anti-Semitic.”

Cleaver, the Missouri Democrat, said he didn’t “have enough time” to mention all the bigoted comments by President Trump but focused on the president’s “remarks in Charlottesville, when he denied knowing who David Duke was and what David Duke stood for . . . when he picked several African-Americans to question their intellect. Maxine Waters was one. Frederica Wilson was the second.”

“I don’t think she made a statement of hate. I think she was saying, the last thing was something about lobbying,” Cleaver said of Omar. “I don’t think she started saying, you know, Jews — ahhhh — any of that stuff.”

Asked if an accusation of dual loyalty was anti-Semitic, Cleaver said: “It may or may not be. I haven’t thought deeply about it.”

“The problem isn’t that [Omar] criticized Israeli policies. The problem is that she has repeatedly used age-old anti-Semitic tropes that have marginalized & persecuted Jews for centuries, before Israel even existed,” Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “When prominent people use anti-Semitic rhetoric, it greenlights more of it. That’s why we’ve called out elected officials in both parties when they spew hate. Congress must send a clear, unambiguous message: there is no place for anti-Semitism in the US.”

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