Dems under fire put brakes on Omar resolution

Dems under fire put brakes on Omar resolution
© Greg Nash

House Democratic leaders taking fire from liberals in their caucus put the brakes Wednesday on plans to vote on a measure implicitly rebuking freshman Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens MORE (D-Minn.) over her comments on Israel.

Leaders are holding off on scheduling a vote as they rework a resolution condemning anti-Semitism to address various kinds of hatred.

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The vote was initially expected to occur on Wednesday, though it was never officially scheduled. Aides say the vote could still happen before lawmakers leave for their districts on Friday, but timing is still uncertain.

Rank-and-file Democrats expressed frustration at a closed-door conference meeting over their leadership’s strategy, arguing they were playing into GOP efforts to divide Democrats over Omar.

Allies of Omar have also ripped the effort to rebuke her as a double standard, arguing others who have made controversial remarks about Latinos, just as one example, have not been punished in the same way.

They also have pointed to a display at the West Virginia Statehouse that showed a picture of Omar alongside the Twin Towers burning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In a nod to those complaints, the resolution is expected to include language about Islamophobia.

At the caucus meeting, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments MORE (D-Calif.) and other leaders heard complaints from some members that they hadn’t been briefed by leadership about the resolution.

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Freshman Rep. Katie HillKatherine (Katie) Lauren HillOcasio-Cortez shares verse by the 'Congressional Destiny's Child' in promotion of new birth control legislation Ocasio-Cortez shares verse by the 'Congressional Destiny's Child' in promotion of new birth control legislation Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses MORE (D-Calif.) expressed frustration that a draft of the resolution began circulating in media outlets on Monday.

“Because, you know, internal dialogue is really important to make sure that we’re on the same page, to make sure we aren’t being divided. And when you have leaks going on constantly — I mean, I appreciate freedom of information, but it’s also, we’re not all on the same page. It makes it very difficult to have a real strategy,” Hill told reporters.

Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates Democrats lash out at Trump's bombshell remarks MORE (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said members of her caucus, which met later Wednesday, discussed “concern about [the resolution] coming up before people have a chance to digest it.”

“There are some people that feel, ‘Why are we doing a resolution?’; some people that feel they want to see what it actually says; and some people that feel good about what they’re hearing,” Bass said.

Earlier Wednesday, Bass warned that singling out Omar could lead to more security threats against the freshman lawmaker.

“I also think, frankly, that it puts her at risk to focus on her. You know, she’s already received death threats,” Bass said.

While a number of Democrats have offered support for Omar, others want a chance to vote against anti-Semitism in the wake of her latest controversial remarks.

“We have an obligation to reject anti-Semitism and racism, both in Congress and across the country. And we should do that very clearly,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Congress and contempt: What you need to know MORE (D-Md.), who is Jewish. “We want to make very clear what our values are.”

Pelosi acknowledged during the closed-door meeting that “we have some internal issues,” according to a Democratic aide, but advised lawmakers: “Don’t question the motivations of our colleagues.”

She also blamed the media for promoting stories about internal party disagreements.

“If you say the bacon is not crispy enough, they’ll have an article about this unrest and unease in the Democratic Party,” Pelosi said in the meeting, to laughter. “Who likes it greasy and who likes it dry and who likes it raw.”

At one point during the Democratic Caucus meeting, freshman Rep. Jahana HayesJahana HayesDems counter portrait of discord Ocasio-Cortez helps raise K in a few hours for House candidates How to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche MORE (D-Conn.) expressed concern to Pelosi about communication regarding the resolution and whether it had been finalized. Pelosi responded that it was still being written. 

Hayes then dug in her purse for something, and another lawmaker tried to move the discussion along. Pelosi came under the impression they were having a separate conversation and grew exasperated they weren’t listening, according to a senior Democratic aide.

When asked about the exchange, Hayes said in a statement to The Hill: “I did not ask anything about the specifics of the resolution, my concern was about the way in which the info was shared. I did look in my bag.”

Staff for Democratic leaders began drafting the resolution over the weekend, after House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Bipartisan House bill seeks to punish Burma for genocide MORE (D-N.Y.) issued a statement accusing Omar of “invoking a vile anti-Semitic slur.”

Omar said during a Washington, D.C., forum last week that critics were making accusations of anti-Semitism in bad faith.

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said. “I want to ask, why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the [National Rifle Association], of fossil-fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?”

Omar had previously apologized for remarks that critics called anti-Semitic, including a 2012 tweet amid the Gaza war in which she said “Israel has hypnotized the world” and tweets last month suggesting that U.S. lawmakers defending Israel were motivated by money. The House adopted a similar measure last month condemning anti-Semitism after Omar’s remarks.

Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens MORE (D-Mich.), a Palestinian-American who along with Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, defended her colleague. Tlaib said she and other minority freshman lawmakers are urging Democratic leaders to broaden the language to include all forms of hate speech.

Tlaib said there’s a double standard — “of course there is” — when it comes to how minority women are treated by their colleagues, both in Congress and beyond. And Omar, she said, is a victim of that double standard, targeted for “speaking truth to power.”

“I know that the Congresswoman Ilhan Omar really tries to push back against oppression,” she said. “And as a Palestinian I can tell you, when she speaks about those issues, what I hear is her trying to help my grandmother in Palestine, in the West Bank, and saying that there [is] real, actual, factual evidence to show that there’s human rights violations” being committed by the Israeli government.

The Omar controversy has dominated the week, overshadowing the Democrats’ plans to debate their marquee legislative package to overhaul voting, campaign finance and ethics laws.

House Democratic leaders displayed posters at their weekly press conference promoting the legislation. But reporters mostly asked questions about Omar.

Asked if the distraction was frustrating, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE (N.Y.) tried to stay on message.

“We are going to continue to proceed with a focus on our agenda. Nothing good is accomplished by being distracted by issues that divide the nation,” he said.

—Mike Lillis contributed.