House Republicans voted on Thursday to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee, notching a win for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has long vowed to oust the Minnesota Democrat from the panel.
The chamber approved the resolution in a party-line 218-211 vote. Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) voted “present,” pointing to his membership on the House Ethics Committee.
The resolution — sponsored by first-term Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), who is Jewish — lists a number of remarks Omar has made in the past that Republicans say are antisemitic. It argues that the congresswoman “disqualified herself” from serving on the Foreign Affairs panel, which “is viewed by nations around the world as speaking for Congress on matters of international importance and national importance and national security.”
Omar — a Somali refugee and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress — delivered an impassioned defense of herself during debate on the House floor Thursday.
“This debate today, it’s about who gets to be an American. What opinions do we get to have, do we have to have to be counted as American?” she asked. “That is what this debate is about, Madam Speaker. There is this idea that you are suspect if you are an immigrant, or if you are from a certain part of the world, of a certain skin tone or a Muslim.”
“Well, I am Muslim. I am an immigrant and, interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I’m being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?” she added.
The resolution hit the floor on Thursday after more than a week of closed-door haggling during which McCarthy faced steep odds in his quest to oust Omar from the committee.
Three Republicans — Reps. Nancy Mace (S.C.), Victoria Spartz (Ind.) and Ken Buck (Colo.) — initially came out against the resolution removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs panel, signaling that they would vote “no” when the measure hit the floor. If all Democrats opposed the resolution, Republicans could only afford to lose four members.
But after private negotiations with McCarthy this week all three flipped, throwing their support behind the resolution.
Mace was the last holdout to shift her stance. Emerging from a meeting in McCarthy’s office roughly an hour before the vote, she officially announced that she would support the measure. She told reporters that McCarthy offered her a “commitment” that there would be a fix to rules that would refer members to the House Ethics Committee before a resolution is drawn up to strip them of their committee assignments.
Buck revealed on Wednesday that he would support the resolution after initially coming out against. He said he decided to back the measure after a phone call with McCarthy, during which the Speaker suggested that he was willing to reform the process for kicking members off committees.
And on Tuesday, Spartz said she would vote for the measure after McCarthy agreed to “add due process language” to the resolution. The text of the resolution, released later that day, included a clause that says “any Member reserves the right to bring a case before the Committee on Ethics as grounds for an appeal to the Speaker of the House for reconsideration of any committee removal decision.”
Some Democrats, however, said the language does not create a formal process because the clause is in the “whereas” section and not the “resolved” section.
McCarthy has vowed to oust Omar from the panel since 2021 as a rebuke for what he says are antisemitic comments, some of which she later apologized for. He also pledged to block Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.) from serving on the House Intelligence Committee, which he followed through with last week.
As Speaker, McCarthy has the ability to unilaterally block members from sitting on the Intelligence Committee.
Many Democrats, however, viewed the efforts as political retribution after the Democratic-led House in 2021 voted to strip GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) of their committee assignments for promoting violence against liberals.
“But what’s going to take place on the floor today is not a public policy debate. It’s not about accountability. It’s about political revenge. That is what it’s about,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) said during a press conference ahead of the vote.
The remarks by Omar listed in the resolution span from 2019 through 2021. Her most prominent comment that drew criticism came in February 2019, when the congresswoman on Twitter suggested that AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group, was paying American politicians to support Israel.
Omar issued a statement apologizing for the remark, and the House passed a resolution condemning antisemitism and other forms of hate shortly after — though the measure did not mention Omar. The vote was 407-23, with all opposition coming from Republicans.
She also came under fire in June 2021 after equating the U.S. and Israel to the Taliban and Hamas terrorist groups while discussing war crimes. Omar later said the comment was “not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel,” but the remark nonetheless prompted a rare joint statement from Democratic leadership condemning “false equivalencies.”
“I assure you this is no political game,” Miller said during debate on the House floor Thursday. “This resolution is not about engaging in a tit-for-tat with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. This is about keeping someone with a long record of antisemitic and anti-Israel bias off the Foreign Affairs Committee, which needs objective emissaries for our foreign policy.”
“She has brought dishonor to the House of Representatives,” he later added.
Democrats on Thursday offered impassioned defenses of their colleague, while also recognizing that her past comments were wrong.
“Rep. Omar certainly has made mistakes. She has used antisemitic tropes that were clearly and unequivocally condemned by House Democrats,” Jeffries said ahead of the vote.
“There has been accountability. Ilhan Omar has apologized. She has indicated that she’ll learn from her mistakes, is working to build bridges, because we believe in building bridges, not walls, building bridges with the Jewish community, including leaders right here in the United States Congress,” he later added.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is Jewish, cited her religion in defending Omar.
“I stand before you as a proud Jew and a proud friend and colleague of Ilhan Omar,” she said, eliciting claps in the chamber. “I don’t need any of you to defend me against antisemitism. My friend, Ilhan Omar, we have worked together for the values that I treasure as an American Jew and that she treasures as an Islamic woman.”
Some Democrats pointed to past GOP promotion of violence against members of the caucus — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who was depicted in a violent animated video posted by Gosar. The video led the Democratic-controlled House to strip Gosar of his assignments.
Ocasio-Cortez noted that the Arizona Republican was just assigned to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee.
“There is nothing consistent with the Republican Party’s continued attack, except for the racism and incitement of violence against women of color in this body,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I had a member of the Republican caucus threaten my life and you all, and the Republican caucus rewarded him with one of the most prestigious committee assignments in this congress.”
“Don’t tell me this is about consistency. Don’t tell me that this is about a condemnation of antisemitic remarks when you have a member of the Republican caucus who has talked about Jewish space lasers,” she added, referring to Greene.
Updated 1:54 p.m.