GOP launches anti-BDS discharge petition

GOP launches anti-BDS discharge petition
© Greg Nash

House Republicans on Wednesday began collecting signatures to force a vote on Senate-passed legislation intended to protect Israel from financial boycotts, pressing forward with an effort to paint Democrats as anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.

The launching of the discharge petition, which would force a vote on the Senate bill if it wins majority support in the House, comes as GOP leaders step up their attacks on Reps. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTrump to return to North Carolina to stump for special election candidate Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support MORE (D-Minn.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibMichigan city declines to renew contract with ICE to hold detainees Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support MORE (D-Mich.), two progressive freshman Muslim women who have come under fire for remarks that Republicans have slammed as blatantly anti-Semetic.

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Republicans are tying the two issues together, arguing that Democrats are standing against Israel by not holding a vote on the Senate bill — and by not denouncing the two freshman lawmakers.

“We've seen a rise in anti-Semitic violence globally over the course the last several years. And we are now seeing a rise in the very halls of Congress in a kind of vitriolic and vile anti-Semitic comments like the ones you've seen from Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib,” House GOP Conference Chair Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneySteve King defends remarks on rape, incest The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE (R-Wyo.), who oversees GOP messaging, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Democratic leaders “have said repeatedly that they stand with Israel, in spite of these anti-Semitic comments. …” Cheney added. “Well, if they truly stand with Israel, then they ought to put this bill on the floor, and they ought to come down and sign the bill.”

Democrats have accused Republicans of distorting Tlaib’s comments, arguing the attacks on the two Muslim women underscores bigotry within the GOP.

“Rep. Tlaib has been purposefully slandered by the President and other Republicans with her comments deliberately taken out of context and mischaracterized,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of Congress’s most powerful Jewish lawmakers, said in a statement earlier this week.

The Senate bill would allow state and city governments to refuse to do business with companies that support efforts to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel, known as the “BDS” movement.

Democrats on Wednesday pledged to move their own anti-BDS bill through the Foreign Affairs Committee, setting up a possible floor vote later this year.

“I expect to be moving something out of the committee in the relatively near future," said Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOmar says US should reconsider aid to Israel Liberal Democrat eyes aid cuts to Israel after Omar, Tlaib denied entry Lawmakers blast Trump as Israel bars door to Tlaib and Omar MORE (D-Md.), who controls what bills come to the House floor.

"My inclination is to put it on the floor, yes, but I want to see what the committee does first before I make that decision," he said.

Traditionally, Jewish voters and donors have overwhelmingly sided with Democrats. But with recent remarks by Omar and Tlaib — as well their push for boycotts and sanctions against Israel — Republicans see an opening to win over Jewish voters, who could help keep swing states like Florida in GOP hands in 2020.

Indeed, Republicans pointed out that the first person to sign onto the discharge petition was Rep. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks Two cats visit Capitol Hill to thank lawmakers who helped end 'kitten slaughterhouse' Buzz Aldrin marks launch of Apollo 11 mission to the moon MORE, a Florida Republican who has a large Jewish population in his district. The bill that cleared the Senate on a bipartisan 77-23 vote was authored by Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China MORE, another Florida Republican.  

If all Republicans back the discharge petition, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King defends remarks on rape, incest Omar says US should reconsider aid to Israel I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King MORE (R-Calif.) said 21 Democrats would need to sign on to force a vote on the Rubio measure. But there is no indication that House Democrats will buck their own leadership and join the GOP effort.

Tlaib came under fire for remarks during a Yahoo News podcast in which she talked about having a “calming feeling” when thinking about the tragedy of the Holocaust.

“There’s always kind of a calming feeling, I tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports," she said in the interview, which aired Saturday. 

“All of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time,” she said. “And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right? ... But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.”

Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they are concerned that the BDS movement is gaining in popularity on college campuses, in part because of support from progressive leaders like Omar, Tlaib and another freshman star, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Memo: Dangers loom for Trump on immigration Students retreating from politics as campuses become progressive playgrounds Former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota MORE (D-N.Y.), who goes by the nickname AOC.

“Unfortunately, they sort of represent this movement that we're seeing out there. And it is on college campuses. And quite frankly, I don't understand it,” warned Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), the former Homeland Security chairman who now is the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I think the AOC-Omar-Tlaib movement is a young, progressive movement that somehow makes anti-Semitism ‘cool’ on college campuses, and it's not cool. It's very dangerous.”

Mike Lillis contributed.