WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House voted after raucous debate Thursday to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee, citing her anti-Israel comments, in a dramatic response to Democrats last session booting far-right GOP lawmakers over incendiary remarks.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was able to solidify Republican support against the Somali-born Muslim in the new Congress although some GOP lawmakers had expressed reservations. Removal of lawmakers from House committees was essentially unprecedented until the Democratic ousters two years ago of hard-right Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona.
The 218-211 vote, along party lines, came after a heated, voices-raised debate in which Democrats accused the GOP of targeting Omar based on her race. Omar defended herself on the House floor, asking if anyone was surprised she was being targeted, “because when you push power, power pushes back.” Democratic colleagues hugged her during the vote.
“My voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world,” Omar said in a closing speech.
Republicans focused on six statements Omar has made that “under the totality of the circumstances, disqualify her from serving on the Committee of Foreign Affairs,” said Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi, the incoming chairman of the House Ethics Committee.
“All members, both Republicans and Democrats alike who seek to serve on Foreign Affairs, should be held to the highest standard of conduct due to the international sensitivity and national security concerns under the jurisdiction of this committee,” Guest said.
The resolution proposed by Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a former official in the Trump administration, declared, “Omar’s comments have brought dishonor to the House of Representatives.”
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Omar has at times “made mistakes” and used antisemitic tropes that were condemned by House Democrats four years ago. But that’s not what Thursday’s vote was about, he said.
“It’s about political revenge,” Jeffries said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., went further, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack as she called the GOP’s action part of one of the “disgusting legacies after 9/11, the targeting and racism against Muslim-Americans throughout the United States of America. And this is an extension of that legacy.”
She added, “This is about targeting women of color.”
McCarthy denied the Republican decision to oust Omar was a tit-for-tat after the Greene and Gosar removals under Democrats, though he had warned in late 2021 that such a response might be expected if Republicans won back the House majority.
“This is nothing like the last Congress,” he said Thursday. He noted that Omar can remain on other panels, just not Foreign Affairs, after her anti-Israel comments.
Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She is also the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber after floor rules were changed to allow members to wear head coverings for religious reasons.
She quickly generated controversy after joining Congress in 2019 with a pair of tweets that suggested lawmakers who supported Israel were motivated by money.
In the first, she criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote, invoking slang about $100 bills.
Asked on Twitter who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded, “AIPAC!”
In a May 2021 tweet, she made reference to Israel as “an apartheid state” over its treatment of Palestinians.
Omar’s remarks sparked a public rebuke from then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who made clear that she had overstepped.
She soon apologized.
“We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Democrats rallied Thursday in a fiery defense of Omar and the experiences she brings to the Congress.
“This clearly isn’t about what Ilhan Omar said as much as who she is — being a smart, outspoken Black woman of the Muslim faith is apparently the issue,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.
Black, Latino and progressive lawmakers in particular spoke of her unique voice in the House and criticized Republicans for what they called a racist attack.
“Racist gaslighting,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. A “revenge resolution,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the progressive caucus.
“It’s so painful to watch,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who joined Congress with Omar as the first two female Muslims elected to the House.
“To Congresswoman Omar, I am so sorry that our country is failing you today through this chamber,” Tlaib said through tears. “You belong on that committee.”
In the weeks leading up to the vote, the chairman of the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, argued for excluding Omar from the panel during a recent closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans.
“It’s just that her worldview of Israel is so diametrically opposed to the committee’s,” McCaul told reporters in describing his stance. “I don’t mind having differences of opinion, but this goes beyond that.”
At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said of the ouster, “It’s a political stunt.”
McCarthy has already blocked Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, from rejoining the House Intelligence Committee once the GOP took control of the chamber in January. While appointments to the intelligence panel are the prerogative of the speaker, the action on Omar required a House vote.
Several Republicans skeptical of removing Omar wanted “due process” for lawmakers who face removal. McCarthy said he told them he would work with Democrats on creating a due process system, but acknowledged it’s still a work in progress. One Republican, Rep. David Joyce of Ohio, voted present.
In the last Congress, several Republicans had joined Democrats in removing Greene and Gosar from their committees.
Before being elected to Congress in 2020, Greene made many remarks that drew rebuke. In an online video, she said former Pelosi was a “traitor” to the country, noting “it’s a crime punishable by death.”
Greene questioned the veracity of mass shootings, and in a 2018 video she talked about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, referring to a “so-called” plane that crashed into the Pentagon. She suggested a massive 2018 fire in California could have been caused by lasers or a collection of forces, including banks controlled by the Rothschild family, who are Jewish.
The House moved swiftly in February 2021 to remove Greene from both her committees. Greene sought to dissociate herself from her “words of the past.” In a floor speech at the time, she told colleagues she believed the 9/11 attacks and mass school shootings were real and no longer believed QAnon conspiracy theories.
Gosar faced a rare vote of House censure and removal from his committees in November 2021 after he posted a video depicting him killing fellow lawmaker Ocasio-Cortez with a knife.
Amid the criticism, Gosar deleted the tweet, but he retweeted the video shortly after the evening vote.
In the new Congress, McCarthy allowed both Greene and Gosar to join House committees.