Rep. Ilhan Omar ties GOP vote on her committee post to her identity as a Muslim woman of color

This story was originally published by The 19th

By Grace Panetta, The 19th

"Ilhan Omar" by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Ilhan Omar” by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

House Republicans voted Thursday to expel Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from her post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a move Omar said was a “continued targeting” of her as a woman of color.

The House voted 218-211 to oust Omar from the committee, with all Democrats voting against it.

The resolution removing her from the Foreign Affairs panel cites previous remarks and tweets from Omar criticizing Israel and the influence of pro-Israel interests in U.S. politics. Some of the statements invoked anti-Semitic tropes, and members of both parties condemned them as anti-Semitic. Omar said her intention “is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole” and “unequivocally” apologized for those comments in 2019.

But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said before taking the speakership that he would seek to remove Omar and other members of her party from their committees after Democrats led the charge to remove two Republicans from their committee assignments in the last Congress.

Omar, standing next to a picture of herself as a child, said on the House floor that the debate over whether to remove her from the panel centered on “who gets to be an American” and argued that her lived experience as a Muslim and a refugee bolsters, not undermines, her role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.

“Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted?,” she said. “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.”

Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, in 2018. Omar moved to America as a child as a refugee from Somalia and has been a critical voice challenging and criticizing the United States’ imperialism, investment in the U.S. military and role on the world stage in her role on the Foreign Affairs panel. She also serves as vice chair of the panel’s subcommittee overseeing Africa.

House Democrats, joined by some Republicans, voted in 2021 to strip Republican Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia of their committee assignments for inflammatory social media posts that, among other things, threatened or depicted violence against other members of Congress. Both were reassigned to committees when Republicans took back the House majority.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a strong supporter of Israel, said Thursday morning that while Omar “certainly has made mistakes,” the vote to oust her from the Foreign Affairs panel was “political revenge,” Politico reported.

Multiple Democrats who spoke up in support of Omar accused McCarthy and the GOP of hypocrisy on anti-Semitism in light of social media posts by Greene, as well as her appearance at a conference organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes. Former President Donald Trump also dined with Fuentes and Kanye West. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said the removal of Omar from the committee continued the “disgusting” post-9/11 legacy of targeting Muslim Americans and women of color more broadly.

“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,” she said.

“Do not insult our intelligence by suggesting this is about anti-Semitism,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff. “You want to introduce a resolution against someone guilty of anti-Semitism? Introduce a resolution against someone dining with anti-Semites, someone dining with white nationalists, members of your conference who are speaking at white nationalist rallies.”

Omar has argued that Republicans pushing to remove her from the committee only serves to fuel Islamaphobic and racist threats and harassment she’s faced since being elected. On Wednesday, Omar shared on Twitter a violent death threat targeting her that her office received via voicemail.

Omar wrote that “as horrific as this is to listen to, I share it because the Republican Party (and the public) need to know that there is a very real human cost to their continued targeting of women of color, not just to me but to those who share my identities.”

McCarthy also blocked Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats and White men who played key roles in the first impeachment of Trump, from retaking seats on the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff, who is running to represent California in the Senate, previously chaired the committee.

McCarthy is operating with a narrow majority in his efforts to boot Omar from the committee, with some Republican members criticizing the move as tit-for-tat for the removals of Gosar and Greene. But he locked down a key holdout, Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana, by adding a provision allowing members to appeal their committee expulsions.

In preparation for the potential removal from the panel and her leadership role on the Africa subcommittee, Omar announced the formation of a U.S.-Africa Policy Working Group. On the House floor, Omar argued that efforts to remove her voice from the committee are rooted in the belief that immigrants and Muslims don’t have an equal right to critique U.S. foreign policy.

“So what is the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee? It is not to cosign the stated foreign policy of whatever administration is in power. It’s about oversight, it’s to critique and to advocate for a better path forward,” she said. “But most importantly, it is to make the myth that American foreign policy is intrinsically moral a reality. So I will continue to speak up, because representation matters.”

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