Dems are mobilizing to defend Omar against the GOP defectors

“She will be the first to tell you that we both disagree on many things. I love Israel and I will defend it wholeheartedly. She is deeply concerned about the Israeli government. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a vote in the Foreign Affairs Committee, even though it’s painful for me,” said Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips — a Jewish Democrat who previously spoke out against some of her remarks, for which she later apologized.

Asked if his Democratic colleagues would come to the same conclusion: “I think some are struggling, but I think ultimately yes.”

Removing Omar from panels requires only a simple majority, but even that could prove difficult for a House executive with a historically slim margin — and another public defector emerges Tuesday when Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) joined Rep. Nancy Mace (RS.C.) by declaring that she would not vote to remove Omar.

Democrats are privately lobbying with other Republican members of the foreign affairs panel to oppose Omar’s removal. Centrist Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Rep. Chris Smith (RN.J.), Omar’s expected counterpart on a foreign affairs subpanel, are seen as top prospects, according to several Democrats familiar with the situation. Smith declined to comment, citing his focus on a health issue.

Another panel member, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), was still undecided, he told POLITICO. And rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) was also undecided, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

If just two more Republicans pledge to vote against booting Omar, it would mark a humiliating defeat for GOP leaders on a priority they have aired for years — further rattling a conference still trying to counter the narrative that it is too divided to accomplish much over the next two years.

Powerful Democratic blocs like the Progressive Caucus, where Omar serves on the leadership, and the Congressional Black Caucus are expected to rally behind the Minnesotan, a high-profile liberal who is the regular subject of intense vitriol and even death threats. Omar had been evacuated to safety along with congressional leaders during the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

“It’s ridiculous,” Black Caucus Chairman Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said in a brief interview. “We support Rep. Omar. She is an effective legislator who deserves to keep her seat, and we will continue to represent her and other members who are being used as political pawns in the Republican payback.”

Fury over Omar’s comments about Israel began just weeks after she entered Congress four years ago. Several of her fellow Democrats were outraged by tweets that appeared to lean on anti-Semitic tropes, suggesting that lawmakers’ support for Israel was driven by campaign donations from pro-Israel groups. Those tweets were deleted and Omar apologized. (Phillips was one of several members who had a one-on-one conversation with her about the tweets, and he said they both made it a point to continue their relationship.)

She also faced conservative backlash later in 2019 for comments about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Omar has said her comments were taken out of context by Republican critics. Two years later, Omar caused another public rift in her party with comments that appeared to equate the US and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban while discussing war crimes – remarks she also quickly sought to clarify.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), one of several Jewish Democrats who have previously criticized Omar for the Hamas comparison, said: “There is no reason to remove Congresswoman Omar from her committee except revenge. … We removed Congresswoman (Paul) Gosar and (Marjorie) Taylor Greene because they threatened violence against other members, including death. That’s not something Congressman Omar did.”

Asked if she thought all Democrats would be united behind Omar, Wasserman Schultz said, “Sure, but we’re just taking this one step at a time.”

Democrats stress the differences between Omar’s situation and the two Republicans removed from the committees in 2021 in separate, bipartisan House votes. Nearly a dozen Republicans agreed to remove Greene (R-Ga.) from her committee posts because of incendiary rhetoric against her fellow members of Congress, and two Republicans voted to remove Gosar (R-Ariz.) from his committee because of a violent posts on social media where he threatened prominent Democrats.

Neither of the two Republicans who voted to remove Gosar remains in Congress.

“I think there’s a big difference between political disagreements and inciting and inciting violence against members of Congress,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), who sits on Foreign Affairs with Omar and fiercely disputed GOP claims that Democrats started the precedent of removing members from committees.

“As a Jewish member of Congress, I take this very seriously,” Jacobs added.

For her part, Phillips added that it is a particularly difficult decision for some members given the rise in damaging rhetoric: “Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head. I don’t think she’s anti-Semitic, I think she’s made some mistakes. … I believe she has learned from it, and I mean it sincerely.”

Democrats plan to name their own members of foreign affairs in the coming days — an assignment Omar has said she expected Democratic leaders to grant by the end of this week. And given the GOP’s slim margins in the lower chamber, Democrats are betting they may be able to flip enough Republicans to sink any vote to strip Omar of his committee duties.

While some Republicans still haven’t said how they will vote, key moderates such as Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), that the vote is the result of Democratic measures from the last Congress.

“I will listen to the debate and review comments she has made. But they should not be surprised by this. Pelosi set a new standard for how the majority treats the minority. … Now the new minority will have to live up to (the) same standard,” Bacon said in a statement.

Omar is not the only Democrat to be stripped of a committee; Rep. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both Californians, will also lose their seats on the House Intelligence Committee. The three members appeared on television together Monday night, where they were dubbed the “McCarthy Three” by MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell. But Omar will be the only one whose committee membership will face a voice vote, as McCarthy has the power to remove members of the intelligence panel on his own.

McCarthy on Tuesday rejected the nominations of Schiff and Swalwell to the House Intelligence Committee, arguing that both had put national security at risk. However, he hesitated when asked earlier Tuesday if he had the votes to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The trio said in a joint statement Tuesday night that it was “disappointing but not surprising that Kevin McCarthy has capitulated to the right wing of his caucus, undermining the integrity of Congress and harming our national security in the process.”

The prospect of highlighting Omar — a woman of color and one of the first Muslim female members of Congress, who is set to be the top Democrat on the foreign affairs subpanel that oversees Africa — is likely to be a big part of Democrats’ messaging next week.

Olivia Beavers and Jordain Carney contributed to this report.

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