Republicans still might try to censure Omar, McCarthy suggests

Many in GOP unhappy with Democratic response to anti-Semitic comments from Minnesota freshman

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., center, thinks freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., should face a harsher punishment for anti-Semitic comments and would not close the door on Republicans introducing a censure resolution. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, slamming Democrats’ response to anti-Semitic comments from freshman Rep Ilhan Omar as inadequate, left the door open Friday to Republicans proposing their own rebuke. 

“No decision has been made on that yet,” the California Republican said when asked during his weekly press conference if the GOP will introduce a censure resolution against Omar or some other form of legislative rebuke that specifically names her. 

Democrats’ response, modified after days of debate, was a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and multiple forms of hate. Many rank-and-file members, especially from the progressive and black caucuses, pushed back against originally drafted anti-Semitism language that never named Omar but was seen as a more direct attack on the Minnesota Democrat.

“You saw when the progressives fight back, they win — that you could not even ask Congresswoman Omar to apologize this time; that they had to water down their own [resolution] and could not even focus on stopping anti-Semitism,” McCarthy said. “And this is the second time this has happened.”

If Republicans decide they want to censure Omar they can introduce a privileged resolution to do so, which would allow them to force a floor vote on it. Democrats could move to table such a resolution, but that would still be an uncomfortable vote for some Democrats who may want to more strongly rebuke Omar's comments.

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.

“She questioned the ability of an American to have allegiance to America if she were Jewish. She questioned that,” McCarthy said. “We’ve watched in history that question be asked before. What’s really concerning to me, is that if we don’t speak strong enough does that question continue to get asked and does it grow.”

“And in this Democratic Party they were not even big enough to be able to name the individual who said it, nor this time to even ask for an apology, nor be able to bring it on the floor by itself,” he added. “That is a turning moment.”

McCarthy and several other Republicans have called for Omar to be removed from her committee assignments, particularly her slot on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Democratic leaders have not felt the issue merits going that far. McCarthy contends some Democrats do feel Omar should be removed from Foreign Affairs, even if they’ve not said so publicly.

“I’ve had Democrat members come up to me and say that,” he said, declining to specify who. “Those are private conversations, I’ll keep it private. I don’t want to harm the Democrats within their own conference.”

House Republicans had their own stumble over the Omar controversy when 23 of their conference members, including the conference chair and vice chair, Reps. Liz Cheney and Mark Walker, voted against the anti-hate resolution — sowing confusion about the message their party was trying to send.

McCarthy said that while the GOP message would have been stronger had they stuck together, every member has their own voting card. 

“The frustration on the Republican side was more that you watered down the [resolution],” he said. “Yes, we are always stronger when we speak with one voice. But I think America is very clear on this. We oppose anti-Semitism. They have a clear problem on the Democratic side.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed back on the notion that Democrats weakened their resolution by adding language to condemn other forms of hate besides anti-Semitism.

“I don’t think it watered down the anti-Semitic language at all,” the California Democrat said Friday at an event at the Economic Club of Washington. “I think it strengthened it.”

McCarthy pointed out that the first time Omar made anti-Semitic comments Republicans used one of their few tools of the minority, the motion to recommit, to force a vote on condemning anti-Semitism.

“We brought it up, we spoke with one voice,” he said. 

The Republican leader lamented that in this second instance of Omar making comments colleagues perceived as anti-Semitic she did not apologize and that Democratic leaders didn’t ask her to do so.

“There’s no punishment, not even on the second time,” he said. “There’s less punishment on the second time of anti-Semitism talk. It’s even rougher.”

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