House GOP condemns Muslim group’s meeting in the Capitol

House Republicans reacted angrily yesterday after learning that a Democratic colleague had approved the use of a conference room inside the Capitol for a controversial non-profit group.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) expressed disappointment with the decision to allow the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to hold a discussion today on “Global Attitudes on Islam-West Relations: U.S. Policy Implications” in the Capitol building. He cited the group’s unwillingness to denounce radical Islamic group Hamas and radical Shiite militia and political party Hezbollah.

“Despite numerous opportunities, CAIR has repeatedly refused to condemn terrorist action by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah,” said Hensarling. “It is hard enough for members of Congress to reserve meeting rooms in the Capitol, and I am sure that there are many other places for groups to meet in private offices throughout Washington.”

CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil-liberties group, has 32 offices and chapters in the United States and Canada. It has long walked a fine line on the issues of Hamas and Hezbollah but is widely accepted as a prominent Islamic group, according to Firas Maksad, a Middle East analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy.

Maksad pointed out that its executive director, Nihad Awad, breaks fast during Ramadan with President Bush every year.

“CAIR is one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent, Muslim organizations in the United States,” said Maksad. He added that CAIR may be avoiding overt condemnation of Hamas and Hezbollah because both are considered legitimate political parties in the Muslim world.

“If they had a clear position, it [could] put them in a tight jacket as far as the Muslim world,” Maksad said.

According to its mission statement, CAIR’s goal “is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”

But GOP members and staff remain unconvinced. They regard the approval of today’s meeting as another example of Democrats’ poor judgment.

“Apparently, the Democrats live in some parallel universe where it’s OK to set up a meeting in the Capitol for a group with known terrorist ties,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). “This colossal failure in judgment — or even common sense — by the Democrats should make Americans pause and think, ‘With friends like these ...’”

Said a House GOP leadership aide: “Between appointing Rep. [William] Jefferson (D-La.) to the Homeland Security Committee and hosting an organization with suspected ties to terrorism in the Capitol, it seems like Democrats are throwing caution to the wind and common sense out the window.”

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said that the Democrats should have used “better discretion.”

 “What [Democratic leadership] believes is appropriate is telling,” he added.

Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey was the Democrat who made the decision to allow the gathering in H-137, a Ways and Means meeting room. The Washington Times first reported the story yesterday.

In a statement issued yesterday by Pascrell’s office, the congressman said, “The Capitol Building is open to all Americans and should be available to encourage dialogue on the most relevant domestic and international issues of the day. … The public and congressional staff should be educated about various perspectives on America’s global involvement.”

The office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it had “no direct control over the room and no involvement in the scheduling process.”