Congress

House passes anti-hate resolution after days of debate over response to Omar comments

Some Democrats and Republicans wanted a standalone vote to condemn anti-Semitism

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., attends a House Foreign Affairs hearing on Feb. 13. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 7:51 p.m. | The House on Thursday overwhelmingly — but notably, not unanimously — passed a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism, racism and Islamophobia, ending days of spirited debate over the appropriate response recent comments from Minnesota Democratic freshman Ilhan Omar.

The final vote was 407-23. All of the “no” votes came from Republicans, including their No. 3, Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Cheney was among the first three “no” votes recorded, and several other Republicans seemed to be following her lead.

The first member on the board as a “no” was Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who said before the vote he was opposed because it wasn’t a direct rebuke.

“Anti-Semitism is a very special kind of hatred that should never be watered down,” Gohmert said. “There has never been a persecution of a people like the Jewish people.”

Most Democrats and Republicans said Omar’s recent comments questioning “the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country” was anti-Semitic because it invoked a dangerous stereotype about dual loyalties.

But many rank-and-file Democrats objected to their leaders’ effort to respond to that remark with a resolution rejecting the myth of dual loyalty and condemning anti-Semitism. They said it unfairly attacked Omar when President Donald Trump and others have regularly espoused hateful rhetoric. 

Democratic leaders, working with the heads of several committees and caucuses, responded to those concerns by updating the resolution with language that rejected other forms of hate such as anti-Muslim discrimination and racism. 

The vote on Thursday was delayed slightly more than an hour after Democrats made one final tweak to add a clause about white supremacists continuing “to exploit bigotry and weaponize hate for political gain.”

Omar, who joined her colleagues in voting for the resolution, declined to answer reporters’ questions after the vote. She did, however, put out a joint statement with fellow Muslim Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and André Carson of Indiana reflecting on the “historic” nature of day.

“It’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation’s history. Anti-Muslim crimes have increased 99% from 2014-2016 and are still on the rise,” they said. 

The three Muslim Democrats added: “We are tremendously proud to be part of a body that has put forth a condemnation of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism, racism, and white supremacy. At a time when extremism is on the rise, we must explicitly denounce religious intolerance of all kinds and acknowledge the pain felt by all communities. Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress.”

Changing votes

Democrats held the vote open long past the allotted time, reveling in the moment as the Republican “no” votes ticked up.

A handful of Republicans and one Democrat changed their votes while the vote was open. California Rep. Eric Swalwell, perhaps mistakenly, was initially recorded as a “no” before switching to “yes.”

Texas Republicans Kevin Brady, the ranking member on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and Randy Weber, as well as Wisconsin GOP Rep. Glenn Grothman, also voted “no” before switching to “yes.”

Grothman approached Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, one of the lead sponsors of the measure, after the vote to say he had to support the resolution because “it’s too hard to explain not voting for it.” But he was disappointed by something not mentioned in it.

“I voted ‘yes’ because I had to, but you should be embarrassed that Al Sharpton is not in there,” Grothman said, calling the civil rights activist “Mr. super anti-Semite in everything under the sun.”

Reps. Rick Crawford of Arkansas and Jeff Duncan of South Carolina were among the nearly two dozen Republicans who voted “no,” although they were initially recorded as “present.”

Only one member was ultimately recorded as “present” — Iowa Republican Steve King, who had been the catalyst for a House vote earlier this year denouncing white supremacy. 

Raskin said he couldn’t “psychoanalyze” why 23 Republicans voted against the resolution. He noted that the resolution intentionally did not call out politicians on either side of the aisle for specific remarks.

“We tried to step up at least a few centimeters above the normal point-scoring that goes on in politics,” he said. “It’s too serious for that. The issues are way too serious just to point partisan fingers.”

Floor debate shows fractures

During floor debate on the measure, Republicans poked fun at Democrats for spending all week agonizing over the language of the nonbinding resolution, even though some said they’d support it.

“This week, the entire week almost, has been taken up by sentiments of a member that were anti-Semitic,” House Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins said. 

The original draft text of the anti-Semitism resolution that Democratic leaders circulated Monday was four pages long, and the final, broader anti-hate version was seven. Collins, who voted for the resolution, said he received three or four different versions leading up to the vote.

“How long does it take to figure out, ‘Just don’t hate?’” the Georgia Republican said. “How many pages does it take to cite ill and evil? Evil is evil.”

Some Democrats also weren’t pleased that the resolution was broadened, softening the original response to Omar’s comments .

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel, the first Democrat to publicly condemn Omar’s most recent remarks, said the final resolution was “fine,” but he was disappointed there couldn’t be a standalone vote to condemn anti-Semitism.

“No member of Congress should be making anti-Semitic statements,” the longtime New York lawmaker said. “No member of Congress should be saying hurtful things and then not apologizing for them.”

Another Jewish New Yorker, Republican Lee Zeldin, who voted “no,” argued that Omar was getting preferential treatment because she’s a Democrat. He and Omar sparred on Twitter earlier this year over earlier anti-Israel comments she made. 

“If that member was a Republican, that member’s name would be in this resolution and this resolution would be all about condemning anti-Semitism and it would be done forcefully,” Zeldin said. 

Zeldin also pointed out that Omar has not apologized for her most recent comments and said, unlike Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he thinks Omar knew what she was saying was anti-Semitic. 

“I don’t believe she is naïve,” he said. “I believe she knows exactly what she is doing.”

Republican Conference Vice Chairman Mark Walker, another “no” vote, said he agreed with Zeldin and others that the resolution was too watered-down. 

“With [Omar’s] kind of behavior, the least they could’ve done is make it a little more pinpointed toward her,” he said.

Republicans also pointed out that Democrats in broadening the resolution left out plenty of other religious groups that have been targets of hate.

Collins noted, for example, that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses were excluded, while Walker said the resolution didn’t mention Christians. Collins is a military chaplain, and Walker served as a pastor for nearly two decades before running for Congress.

The ‘no’ votes

Here are the 23 Republicans who voted against the resolution:

Also watch: Collins on hate speech resolution — ‘I hope we’re not here in another four weeks’

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.