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

With a rare joint statement, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions Overnight Health Care: Average daily COVID infections topped last summer's peak, CDC says | US reaches 70 percent vaccination goal a month after Biden's target | White House says CDC can't renew eviction ban Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban MORE (D-Calif.) and her entire leadership team on Thursday sought to quell a growing controversy over Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBiden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban CBC presses Biden to extend eviction moratorium The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill 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 HoyerHouse bundling is bad for deliberation CBC presses Biden to extend eviction moratorium Top House Democrats call on Biden administration to extend eviction moratorium MORE (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Assistant Speaker Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkCBC presses Biden to extend eviction moratorium Top House Democrats call on Biden administration to extend eviction moratorium Select committee member thanks officers who responded Jan. 6: 'You were our last line of defense' MORE (D-Mass.), Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesMcCarthy jokes it'll be hard not to 'hit' Pelosi with gavel if he is Speaker Jeffries: 'Sick and cynical' for GOP to blame Pelosi for Jan. 6 Democrat unveils bill to allow only House members to serve as Speaker MORE (D-N.Y.) and Vice Caucus Chairman Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony 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 McCarthy58 percent say Jan. 6 House committee is biased: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate 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 SchneiderBiden nominates Holocaust historian as special envoy to combat antisemitism Sanders reaffirms support for Turner in Ohio amid Democratic rift Top Democrat leads bipartisan trip to Middle East 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.”