The House passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate on Thursday, a move Democratic leaders hope ends a nasty and divisive chapter for their caucus.
The compromise resolution passed easily, with all Democrats including lightning-rod freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) voting for it. But the result came after a week of building hostilities between different wings of the House Democratic Party triggered by Omar’s latest controversial remarks about Israel that many took as anti-Semitic.
Omar remarked last week that pro-Israel advocates were pushing for “allegiance to a foreign country,” comments many heard as echoing of old anti-Semitic tropes that Jews hold dual allegiances and can’t be trusted to be loyal to their home country. The remarks came after an earlier Omar tweet that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” remarks she later apologized for.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was among many Democrats to swiftly condemn the remarks. But her next step — a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that was clearly aimed at Omar — exacerbated internal caucus tensions. The resulting fallout laid bare divisions that ran along ideological, generational, religious and racial lines and created the first real internal crisis since Democrats retook the House last fall.
Pelosi crafted the resolution and planned to introduce it on Monday, with little input from the broader caucus. That infuriated some Democratic lawmakers — especially members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus — who saw it as a dramatic overreaction and one that played into disingenuous right-wing attacks against Omar, a black woman who is one of just two Muslim women in Congress.
Some defended Omar’s remarks, arguing that any criticism of Israel triggered unfair accusations of anti-Semitism, while others warned that even if Omar’s comments were insensitive it wasn’t fair to punish her with a House vote when so many other more explicitly racist, sexist and anti-Semitic things had been said by President Trump and the GOP. Recent death threats against Omar and a sign outside a West Virginia Republican Party event over the weekend that tied her to the 9/11 terrorist attacks further fueled their frustrations.
Pelosi’s push drew criticism from some top Democrats including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
After a volatile Wednesday caucus meeting, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders agreed to redraft the resolution to include condemnations of white supremacy and Islamophobia. That enraged some Jewish lawmakers who see it as watering down the original point of the resolution.
“I am very disappointed that we weren’t able to have a separate resolution to condemn anti-Semitism and what our colleague said…which was a very hateful term,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) said on the House floor shortly before the vote.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) further fueled tensions when he told The Hill that Omar, a Somali refugee who spent years in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the U.S., had firsthand experience that informed her opinion that was more valuable than others’.
“There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her,” Clyburn said. “I’ve talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain.”
The eventual compromise resolution was crafted by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who is Jewish, along with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus.
But even that compromise wasn’t enough, as Democratic members of other minority groups complained that they hadn’t been included. To appease them, Democratic leaders added language addressing hate speech against Hispanics, Asian Americans, and GLBTQ Americans.
“We must reject all forms of bigotry and prejudice,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said on the House floor shortly before the vote.
Republicans seemed to delight in the chaos, while decrying Democrats’ move to broaden and compromise the original bill’s language. That included President Trump, who blamed “both sides” for the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017 and told Jewish GOP donors that he wouldn’t get their backing because he didn’t need their money and “You want to control your own politician.”
The level of GOP schadenfreude grew as the vote approached. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said he’d vote against the “watered down” resolution because “There’s never been a persecution of people like the Jewish people” — ignoring his recent false claims that Jewish liberal donor George Soros was a Nazi collaborator. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who brought a Holocaust denier as his 2018 State of the Union guest, took to the House floor to complain Democrats had expanded the resolution to include offenses Trump had committed.
The resolution passed with every Democrat supporting it. Twenty-three Republicans voted against it, including House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), one of only two Jewish House Republican members, and a number of members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who GOP leaders removed from his committees after a string of racially charged remarks, was the only member to vote “present.”
With the resolution passed through the House, Democrats hope they’ll be able to move on from a painful week. But it’s as yet unclear how easy that will be to accomplish — or whether the hurt laid bare by the fight will continue to linger, leading to later fights and further damage to the Democratic Party brand.