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 OmarThe four House Democrats who voted against the border funding bill Ocasio-Cortez: It was easier to get elected to Congress than pay off student loan debt Progressive group endorses three House freshmen MORE (D-Minn.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibProgressive group endorses three House freshmen Lawmakers urge young women to run for office at DC conference Sanders proposes canceling .6 trillion in US student debt 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 CheneyLiz Cheney hits back at Ocasio-Cortez over concentration camp comments: 'This isn't model Congress' Ocasio-Cortez on concentration camp remarks: Liz Cheney, GOP 'manipulating pain for political purposes' Ocasio-Cortez calls out Steve King, Liz Cheney amid controversy over concentration camp remarks 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 HoyerDemocrats already jockeying for House leadership posts House Democratic leaders work to secure votes for border bill Hoyer: House won't move forward on congressional pay bump 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 MastGOP launches anti-BDS discharge petition Conserving tiny forage fish, the heroes of our shared ocean ecosystem Conservation remains a core conservative principle 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 lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats Mellman: Are primary debates different? Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court MORE, another Florida Republican.  

If all Republicans back the discharge petition, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Top Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats House passes .5B border funding bill 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-CortezDemocrat backs up Ocasio-Cortez: Migrant shelters 'are like concentration camps' Ocasio-Cortez marks one-year anniversary of her primary win Democratic lawmaker says treatment of migrants at border 'not American' 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.