Democratic leader bashes GOP’s ‘political revenge’ Omar vote

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) lashed out at GOP leaders on Thursday over their decision to boot Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee, accusing the Republicans of adopting a double standard by ignoring antisemitism in their own ranks. 

Jeffries pointed to comments from several House Republicans that compared President Biden to Hitler, questioned the loyalty of an American-based Israeli lobbying group and joked about the recent attack on the husband of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“It’s a double, triple, quadruple-and-beyond standard when you think about all of the [GOP] members — these are just three — who have engaged in highly offensive, at times antisemitic, behavior, rhetoric [and] hate,” Jeffries said during a press briefing in the Capitol. 

Omar, a Somali refugee and one of just three Muslims in Congress, had come under fire several years ago for a series of comments deemed antisemitic by members of both parties, and Republicans wasted no time using their new majority to push a resolution kicking her off of the Foreign Affairs panel.

The vote, which took place Thursday afternoon, passed along strict partisan lines, 218-211. Republican Rep. David Joyce (Ohio) voted “present.”

“I’m not saying she can’t have committees,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday evening. “But to sit on Foreign Affairs, I worry about … what the rest of the world looks at, every single word that is said there.”

The most prominent of Omar’s controversies occurred in 2019, just weeks after she first arrived on Capitol Hill, when she tweeted that lawmaker support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins, baby” — a remark that sparked charges of antisemitism from Jewish advocates and widespread condemnation on Capitol Hill.

Jeffries made no attempt to whitewash Omar’s comments, saying “she has used antisemitic tropes.” 

“Rep. Omar certainly has made mistakes,” he said. 

But he also emphasized how Democrats, including Omar, responded to the “Benjamins” episode four years ago, contrasting it with the inaction from McCarthy and other GOP leaders to similarly offensive remarks from Republican members. 

On Feb. 10, Omar sent the objectionable tweet. On Feb. 11, House Democratic leaders — from then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on down — issued a statement condemning her remarks as “deeply offensive” and calling on Omar “to immediately apologize.” 

Hours later, Omar did just that, issuing a statement saying she never intended to offend “my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.” 

“This is why I unequivocally apologize,” she said. 

On March 7, the House approved a resolution to condemn all forms of antisemitism, though it did not mention Omar by name. The vote was 407-23, with Omar voting in favor of the measure. The 23 “no” votes all came from Republicans. 

“There has been accountability. Ilhan Omar has apologized; she has indicated that she’ll learn from her mistakes,” Jeffries said. “So this is not about accountability, it’s about political revenge.”

In contrast, Jeffries pointed to remarks from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) in September 2021 after Washington’s largest pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), condemned his opposition to a resolution condemning an attack on Israel.  

“How is THIS not foreign interference in our elections?” Massie, a libertarian-leaning lawmaker who votes against virtually all measures dabbling in foreign affairs, tweeted at the time

Jeffries wondered why GOP leaders didn’t race to punish Massie, the way they’re now punishing Omar. 

“That’s not an antisemitic trope? That’s not playing into dangerous stereotypes about the Jewish community here in America, suggesting that they have dual loyalty? AIPAC is engaging in foreign interference?” Jeffries said. “AIPAC is an American-based organization.” 

“To this day not a single House Republican leader has said a word — a word — about Thomas Massie,” he added. “But he’s been rewarded with a seat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee.” 

Jeffries also highlighted another tweet from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), which depicted Biden as Hitler, and a third from freshman Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which mocked October’s violent attack on Paul Pelosi, 82, who was hit on the head with a hammer.

“Speaker McCarthy knows I strongly disagree with him, and them, on this issue,” Jeffries said. “And this type of poisonous, toxic double standard is going to complicate the relationship moving forward between House Democrats and House Republicans.”

McCarthy had been vowing to remove Democrats from committees since 2021, when Pelosi brought votes to strip Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) from their committee seats. Greene had promoted the assassination of prominent Democrats, including Pelosi, on social media, while Gosar had posted an anime video depicting the beheading of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Neither lawmaker was disciplined by McCarthy. 

Jeffries, echoing the argument of other Democrats, said there’s a distinction to be made between the removal of lawmakers like Greene and Gosar, who promoted violence, and the ousting of lawmakers like Omar and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who were punished for policy differences. 

“The line should be drawn when there are members of Congress who are actively threatening violence against colleagues … violence that we should actually take seriously in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 violent insurrection,” Jeffries said.  

Jeffries declined to say if Democrats will carve out a special position for Omar within the caucus after she is removed from the Foreign Affairs panel. 

“She will continue to productively serve,” he said. “But we’ll cross that bridge, in terms of precision, when we get to it.”