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Dem leaders defend freshmen Tlaib, Omar

Dem leaders defend freshmen Tlaib, Omar
© Greg Nash

House Democratic leaders on Tuesday defended progressive freshman Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' MORE (Mich.) and Ilhan OmarIlhan Omar'It's not a slogan': Progressives push back on Obama's comments on 'defund the police' movement Meet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE (Minn.) against GOP accusations of anti-Semitism for their views toward Israel.

The two freshmen have drawn ire from Republicans for their support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which is critical of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians.

Asked about the Republican charges that Tlaib and Omar are anti-Semites, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats pick DeLauro to lead Appropriations panel Congress faces late-year logjam Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-Md.), an ardent supporter of Israel, cautiously defended his Democratic colleagues.

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"Clearly, I condemn anti-Semitism," he said at a press briefing in the Capitol. "I don't know that I draw the conclusion, however, that those attacking those two members are correct that they [Tlaib and Omar] are anti-Semitic. I don't accept that premise."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) also defended Tlaib and Omar.

"I've found those two new freshmen members to be thoughtful colleagues on a wide variety of issues," Jeffries told reporters.

House GOP leaders had condemned Omar's appointment to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They cited a tweet from Omar in 2012 amid the Gaza War in which she stated: "Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel."

Omar last week walked back the tweet, saying that she hadn't realized her tweet could have been interpreted as derogatory toward Jewish people.

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“It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy is disavowing the anti-semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive,” Omar tweeted last week.

Republicans have also seized on Tlaib's opposition to a Senate measure by Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale GOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Pressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal MORE (R-Fla.) affirming the right of state and local governments to ban contracts with entities that support a boycott of Israel.

Tlaib tweeted that supporters of that bill “forget what country they represent” and sought to “strip Americans of their Constitutional right to free speech.”

Rubio accused Tlaib of promoting a “typical anti-Semitic line” about dual loyalties.

Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinCaring for our seniors during and after coronavirus Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (R-N.Y.), who is Jewish, introduced a resolution last week stating that the House "rejects anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred" that specifically cites Tlaib's and Omar's support for the BDS movement.

Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, accused Republicans of attacking her because she's Muslim and Palestinian.

Asked by The Hill last week what she thinks is motivating the GOP scrutiny, Tlaib said: “Because I'm Muslim, Palestinian. I mean, I'm a human being here as a mom, as an advocate and all these things. And I'm an equal to them now.”

The Senate voted 74-19 on Monday to advance legislation that would impose new sanctions on Syria and reauthorize security assistance to Israel. It also includes Rubio's anti-BDS provision.

Many Democrats view Rubio's BDS provision as a poison pill due to concerns about its limits on free speech. House Democrats indicated they are unlikely to take up the Senate legislation in its current form.

"I can say that the overwhelming majority of the House Democratic Caucus is strongly pro-Israel. That said, we are not going to allow the Senate Republicans to move legislation forward that really is a political stunt and not a serious effort at advancing American foreign policy interests," Jeffries said.

Hoyer said he backs legislation by Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.) to ban American companies from participating in Israel boycotts. Cardin's bill would expand an existing prohibition on companies joining in anti-Israel boycotts led by foreign governments to those organized by international governmental organizations.

But citing free speech concerns, Hoyer said he's less sure he'll back the package of anti-BDS measure advanced by the Senate on Monday.

"Assuming it comes over here, it will be referred to committee, and I look forward to the committee's recommendation. I think there is a — clearly — a question of drawing the line on free speech, and the right of anybody to advocate a policy that they want, and actions to hurt an ally of the United States. And I think that that's an important distinction," Hoyer said. "I'm not sure the Rubio legislation drew that distinction properly."

Mike Lillis contributed.