Jan 27, 2023
Ilhan Omar’s Foreign Affairs Seat Looms as Potential Floor Fight
(Bloomberg) -- House Republicans are threatening to challenge Democrat Ilhan Omar’s seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as soon as next week, lining up a potential floor fight Speaker Kevin McCarthy risks losing.
Democrats voted by unanimous consent during a closed-door meeting Friday to allow Omar to remain on the committee despite accusations she used antisemitic tropes in earlier comments, for which she later apologized.
McCarthy has previously said he would like to oust Omar from the panel, but doing so would require a majority vote in the evenly divided House.
If all Democrats support Omar, McCarthy could only afford to lose four members from his ranks. Two Republicans — Victoria Spartz of Indiana and Nancy Mace of South Carolina — have already said they oppose removing Omar.
“Speaker McCarthy needs to stop ‘bread and circuses’ in Congress and start governing for a change,” Spartz said in a statement on Tuesday.
Moderate Republican Dave Joyce of Ohio said in an interview that Omar should be able to make her case on the House floor where the entire chamber can vote on the issue.
Republican leaders could propose the resolution to drop Omar,who represents a Minnesota district, from the Foreign Affairs Committee as early as Monday during a meeting of the Rules Committee, people familiar with the discussion said.
“We have made very clear that when it comes to the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees you can’t have people with these types of problems,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told reporters on Friday.
Democrats at the Friday meeting spoke only in support of Omar staying on the committee, a person familiar with the matter said.
“Whatever our disagreements may be as members of Congress, policy differences alone have not and must not be cause for eliminating someone from serving on a committee,” Omar said in a Friday statement. “I am grateful for the confidence my constituents and my caucus have shown in me to lead this work, and I look forward to continuing to work for a more just and peaceful world.”
But a floor vote is also risky for Omar, who could lose support within her party. Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Jared Moskowitz of Florida told reporters earlier this week they won’t decide on Omar until the vote comes to the floor.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York progressive, said any Republican move to unseat Omar from Foreign Affairs was rooted in racism.
“It would be my hope that our caucus remains strong and united in recognition of that,” she said.
Omar fled Mogadishu during Somalia’s civil war and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp. She was one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, both elected in 2018, and was the first to wear a hijab on the House floor.
“Her unique lived experience as a refugee brings incredible value to the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” California Democrat Barbara Lee, a member of the steering committee that recommends committee assignments, said in a statement.
Omar’s feuds with former President Donald Trump attracted the spotlight. In 2019, she drew heat for her implying that American political support for Israel, is “all about the Benjamins.” She apologized publicly after critics in the chamber — some within her own party — said the comments were antisemitic.
Earlier this week, McCarthy unilaterally ousted Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California, from the House Intelligence Committee. Under House rules, the Intelligence panel does not require a full vote of the House to strip someone of membership.
McCarthy and other Republicans have painted efforts to deny panel membership to Schiff, Swalwell and Omar as a response to Democrats under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, removing Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona from committees.
The House, under Democratic control, voted in February 2021 to remove Greene from the Education and Budget committees citing her incendiary tweets and statements, including support for the QAnon conspiracy theory. Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in ousting her from the panels.
Gosar was removed from the Oversight and Natural Resources panels after posting an altered anime video that depicted him killing Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden. Two Republicans joined Democrats in that vote.
--With assistance from Billy House and Erik Wasson.
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