Pelosi excuses Ilhan Omar; produces resolution that condemns ‘every form of bigotry’
The House passed a sweeping resolution Thursday condemning “every form of bigotry” in an attempt to please both sides of a heated debate over freshman Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s controversial comments about Israel.
The anti-hate bill, which in broad strokes condemned anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy and racism at large, breezed through the lower chamber on a 407-23 margin.
But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle appeared displeased with the bill despite its overwhelming passage.
Republicans loyal to President Trump, including Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Lee Zeldin of New York, voted no in protest because they were upset the measure didn’t explicitly call out Omar for recent comments that critics have called anti-Semitic.
Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, voted for the bill but privately questioned why the House should waste time rebuffing a woman of color when Trump and other Republicans have previously gotten a pass for what they see as blatantly racist comments and behavior.
“A waste of time,” a senior aide to a left-leaning Democratic member told the Daily News before the vote. “This is a symbolic slap on the wrist…and one less legislation that actually does something productive.”
Earlier in the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed away from outright rebuking freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has drawn bipartisan ire for weeks over a series of critical public statements about U.S. relations with Israel.
“I don’t think that the congresswoman perhaps appreciates the full weight of how it’s heard by other people, although I don’t believe it was intended in an anti-Semitic way,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at her weekly press conference.
Omar, who had already apologized earlier this year for suggesting the power of the Israel lobby in the U.S. was “all about the Benjamins,” sparked fresh anger last week by saying that some people “push for allegiance to a foreign country” — a remark that some said echoed historic anti-Semitic tropes of “dual loyalty.”
The 37-year-old left-wing lawmaker, who’s one of only two Muslim women in Congress, did not specify Jews and Israel, but the remark was made in a conversation about Israel policy and the earlier charges of anti-Semitism leveled against her.
Moderate Democrats and Republicans responded with outrage and pushed for a House vote on a resolution rebuking Omar.
But progressives called foul and excoriated their moderate colleagues for siding with Republicans while seemingly giving Trump the benefit of the doubt despite his tendency to use inflammatory language while talking about immigrants, Muslims and other minorities.
Thursday’s sweeping anti-bigotry bill marked the compromise born out of those clashing factions.
The eight-page measure opens up by condemning anti-Semitism as “contradictory to the values and aspirations that define the people of the United States.” It goes on to condemn white supremacy, racism, Islamophobia and “other forms of bigotry, as well as historical struggles against them.”
“All Americans have a stake in fighting every form of bigotry and hatred against people based on religion, race, or place of birth and origin,” the resolution states.
It also lists the deadly far-right march in Charlottesville in 2017, the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Philadelphia as horrific manifestations of hate.
The resolution does not call out Omar by name.
Instead of passing a resolution, the progressive congressional aide suggested Omar should step up, take responsibility for her words and pledge to be more mindful of the way she critiques U.S. relations with Israel, so that lawmakers can focusing on legislating instead of “symbolism.”
“I don’t think we deserve brownie points for saying we’re against hate,” the source added.
Mayor de Blasio, who likes to bill himself as a progressive, said he found Omar’s comments deeply offensive.
“Let me very clear, suggesting that support for Israel means you’re beholden to a foreign power is absolutely unacceptable,” de Blasio said at an event at City Hall Thursday morning. “I believe strongly in the state of Israel. It’s a really inappropriate comment.”
Pelosi stalled an initial vote on the resolution Wednesday amid protest by left-leaning members of her caucus, including New York freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who argued that criticizing Israel or its lobbyists in the U.S. was not the same thing as being anti-Semitic. Many also said that comments many Democrats deem to be anti-Muslim or racist have not been similarly condemned.
Pelosi apparently agreed.
“It’s not about her,” Pelosi said of Omar. “It’s about these forms of hatred.”
She also cut Omar some slack for being a new member of the House who was still close to a more activist style, as Pelosi said she once was.
“I understand how advocates come in with their enthusiasm, but when you cross that threshold into Congress, your words weigh much more than when you’re shouting at somebody outside,” Pelosi said. “I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitudes.”
With Elizabeth Elizalde
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