WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans wielded their power Thursday to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee, seizing on past controversies stirred by the Minnesota Democrat as reasons to stop her from returning to the prized slot.
She lost the post in a 218 to 211 vote after a contentious floor debate.
“My leadership and voice will not be diminished if I am not on this committee for one term,” Omar said on the House floor before voting started. “My voice will get louder and stronger.”
Republicans have long targeted Omar, a Muslim woman and refugee who made history as the first Somali-American elected to Congress.
“Representative Omar has espoused antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric time and again,” Rep. Max Miller, a Jewish Republican from Ohio said during the debate. “She cannot be an objective contributor to the work of the committee and she has brought dishonor to the House of Representatives.”
After first winning her seat in 2018, Omar spent two terms on the foreign affairs panel as Democrats controlled the chamber. Some of her controversies caused bipartisan backlash. She apologized early in her first term for a tweet viewed as antisemitic, and has also apologized over a 2012 tweet that said “Israel has hypnotized the world.” A 2019 comment about Israel when Omar said “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” was strongly criticized.
Omar faced further bipartisan criticism in 2021 over a tweet concerning a committee hearing that said “we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. I asked @SecBlinken where people are supposed to go for justice.” She attempted to clarify the post, saying in a statement that she “was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy vowed to remove Omar from the foreign affairs panel, and tweeted after the November midterms that he would do so because of “her repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks.”
No Democrats voted to oust Omar on Thursday. But in defending her, some didn’t shy away from pointing out the effect of her words.
“Representative Omar and I regularly disagree on policy both domestic and foreign,” Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips, who is Jewish and served with Omar on the foreign affairs committee, said during the debate. “And she has at times used words that have caused concern, offense and even personal pain to me and others. She and I have spoken face to face on those occasions, and she has apologized and she continues to learn from those missteps.”
New York Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks, the leading Democrat on the foreign affairs panel, noted in his own floor speech, “it is undeniable that Representative Omar has made what’s been considered to be offensive antisemitic comments in the past.”
“It is also undeniable that Representative Omar has apologized, learned and been a reliable and productive member of the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Meeks added. “And I’ve watched her work with her colleagues on both sides of the aisle. She cares about her country. She cares about our national security. She cares about diplomacy. Her perspective is invaluable to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”
Some Republicans voiced hesitations in the days leading up to the vote, but none in the GOP ended up siding with Omar. One Republican, Rep. David Joyce of Ohio, voted present.
Republicans have frequently focused on Omar in their attacks on moderate Democrats during congressional campaigns. Omar has also faced anti-Muslim comments from some far-right House Republicans. Her 2018 victory made her one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
On Wednesday night, Omar tweeted audio of a profanity filled death threat she said her office recently received.
“These threats increase whenever Republicans put a target on my back,” Omar tweeted. “They can continue to target me, but they will never stop me from fighting for a more just world.”
Last week, McCarthy used his authority as speaker to deny two California Democrats from serving on the House intelligence committee. But the only way to remove Omar from the foreign affairs panel was with a floor vote.
“No one who peddles in antisemitic activity, behavior or language should have any right to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which has an incredibly important role to play in partnering with our strongest ally, the state of Israel,” New York GOP Rep. Mike Lawler said during the debate.
The GOP only went after Omar’s post on foreign affairs and she will be able to keep her slot on a separate panel on education and the workforce. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries tweeted after Thursday’s vote that he intends to see Omar also get a spot on the House Budget Committee.
Thursday’s debate comes after the then-Democrat controlled House took action in 2021 against two far-right Republicans.
“This to me is just pure revenge politics,” Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum said earlier this week about the move against Omar.
Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene lost her committees in a bipartisan vote after Democrats noted her earlier violent rhetoric and embrace of conspiracy theories. A similar push, supported by Democrats and only two Republicans, resulted in the removal of Arizona GOP Rep. Paul Gosar from his committee posts because his social media account posted an animated video of him using a sword to kill Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The new Republican-led House put Gosar and Greene back on committees. After Thursday’s vote against Omar, Greene could be seen clapping on the House floor.
Republicans pointed out in the buildup to removing Omar that Democrats had acted against their GOP colleagues and changed how things worked in the House.
“We are a body of precedent,” Minnesota GOP Rep. Michelle Fischbach said during a meeting earlier this week, adding that “this precedent was set.”
Comparing Omar’s situation to Greene and Gosar was fiercely dismissed by House Democrats.
“The two individuals that we removed from committees were not removed for their speech. They were removed because they made threats against other members,” Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, a former House majority leader, said on the floor.
Every Minnesota Democrat in the House opposed kicking Omar off the panel, while all four Minnesota Republicans voted in favor of removing her.
“I am Muslim, I am an immigrant, and interestingly, from Africa,” Omar said in her speech. “Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy, or that they see me as a powerful voice that needs to be silenced? Frankly, it is expected. Because when you push power, power pushes back.”
While Thursday’s vote was underway, some Democrats hugged Omar. And before it ended, Omar tweeted a photo of a band on her wrist.
It said, “God bless whoever hating on me.”