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 TlaibTlaib to join Sanders at campaign rally in Detroit 2016 Sanders surrogate Lucy Flores endorses Warren Ocasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make MORE (Mich.) and Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTlaib to join Sanders at campaign rally in Detroit AOC: Trump comparing impeachment inquiry to a lynching is 'atrocious' 2016 Sanders surrogate Lucy Flores endorses Warren 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 HoyerThis week: Tensions flare over Schiff, impeachment inquiry House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Scalise, Cole introduce resolution to change rules on impeachment MORE (D-Md.), an ardent supporter of Israel, cautiously defended his Democratic colleagues.

"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 JeffriesBlack lawmakers condemn Trump's 'lynching' remarks Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings House chairman: Pompeo not complying with impeachment inquiry 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.

“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 RubioHouse passes bill taking aim at anonymous shell companies Turkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours 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 ZeldinTrump embarks on Twitter spree amid impeachment inquiry, Syria outrage Graham huddles with House Republicans on impeachment strategy State Dept. official told to lay low after voicing concerns about Giuliani: Dem lawmaker 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 CardinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump has had a rough October Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Democrats vow to push for repeal of other Trump rules after loss on power plant rollback 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.