Pelosi, leaders seek to squelch Omar controversy with rare joint statement

With a rare joint statement, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe, eyeing new GOP reinforcements GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (D-Calif.) and her entire leadership team on Thursday sought to quell a growing controversy over Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOmar reflects on personal experiences with hate in making case for new envoy Ohio becomes battleground for rival Democratic factions Omar leads lawmakers in calling for US envoy to combat Islamophobia MORE’s (D-Minn.) remarks equating war crimes committed by the U.S. and Israel to those by the Taliban and Hamas terrorist groups. 

The joint statement by Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats warn leadership against excluding House from infrastructure talks Ethics panel upholds 0 mask fines against Greene, other GOP lawmakers Bipartisan antitrust leaders urge FTC to pursue Facebook case MORE (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Assistant Speaker Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkPelosi signals no further action against Omar Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias Pelosi, leaders seek to squelch Omar controversy with rare joint statement MORE (D-Mass.), Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDemocrat unveils bill to allow only House members to serve as Speaker Progressive fighting turns personal on internal call over antitrust bills Democratic tensions simmer in House between left, center MORE (D-N.Y.) and Vice Caucus Chairman Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarPelosi weighing GOP picks for Jan. 6 probe Clyburn: Trump could be called to testify before Jan. 6 panel The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Trump Org CFO's expected indictment MORE (D-Calif.) came after Omar responded to a request from a dozen Jewish House Democrats to “clarify” what she meant in her original remarks.

“Legitimate criticism of the policies of both the United States and Israel is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate. And indeed, such criticism is essential to the strength and health of our democracies,” the Democratic leadership team said in its statement.

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“But drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all," the statement adds.

In her clarification, Omar, a progressive Minnesota Democrat and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, explained that her original comments had focused on ongoing International Criminal Court probes — “not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel." 

"I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” said Omar, a Somali refugee. 

That clarification appeared to satisfy Pelosi and her team, who said in their Thursday statement: “We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban.” 

Omar’s original comments, made Monday as she questioned Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during a House hearing, were quickly becoming a major political headache for Democrats. Conservative media outlets ripped Omar’s remarks, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyDemocrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe, eyeing new GOP reinforcements GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Calif.) and the House GOP campaign arm called on Pelosi to punish Omar. 

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Late Wednesday, Omar took friendly fire as a dozen Jewish House Democrats, led by Rep. Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderSanders reaffirms support for Turner in Ohio amid Democratic rift Top Democrat leads bipartisan trip to Middle East Democrat says he won't introduce resolution to censure Greene MORE (D-Ill.), issued a joint statement calling on Omar to clarify her remarks and objecting to any comparison of the U.S. and Israel and the Taliban and Hamas. 

At first, Omar was defiant, accusing her Democratic colleagues of engaging in “islamophobic tropes” and trying to harass and silence her. Omar allies said these Democrats had put her safety at risk. 

 

But hours later, Omar backed down, issuing a more nuanced statement that explained that she was speaking about specific human rights investigations rather than making a “moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel.”