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House passes resolution in the wake of representative's comments

Posted at 7:28 PM, Mar 07, 2019

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution broadly condemning hate and intolerance, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination, in the wake of controversy over Democratic freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar.

The vote was 407-23. Twenty-three Republicans voted against the measure , and all Democrats -- including Omar -- who voted voted in support of the resolution.

Passage of the resolution comes after an intense internal debate among House Democrats over how to respond to recent comments Omar made related to Israel that sparked criticism, including from fellow Democrats.

That debate led to uncertainty over the past 24 hours over when the resolution would come to a vote and what exactly it would say.

Draft text of the resolution was originally written to focus specifically on condemning anti-Semitism following outrage over Omar's remarks, but the text was later revised to include a denunciation of other forms of bigotry, including anti-Muslim bias.

Following the vote, Omar released a joint statement with Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Andre Carson of Indiana praising the passage of the resolution. The three lawmakers represent all the Muslim members of the US Congress.

"Today is historic on many fronts," they wrote. "It's the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation's history."

The statement continued, "We are tremendously proud to be part of a body that has put forth a condemnation of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism, racism, and white supremacy. At a time when extremism is on the rise, we must explicitly denounce religious intolerance of all kinds and acknowledge the pain felt by all communities. Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress."

Omar, who has not shied away from criticizing the actions of the Israeli government, became embroiled in a backlash after saying at an event last week, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." The remark drew condemnation from several influential House Democrats.

Omar's office has not returned CNN's requests for comment and, before Thursday night's joint statement, she has not commented publicly on the resolution, but the congresswoman has defended herself on Twitter against some of the criticism she has faced over her recent remarks.

"I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee," Omar tweeted earlier in the week.

She added, "I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks."

The extent to which the controversy divided the party was on display even as House Democrats came together in support of the resolution on Thursday.

Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee of which Omar is a member, said in remarks on the House floor ahead of the vote that while he would vote for the resolution, he wished the matter had been dealt with differently.

"I'm going to vote yes on this measure today," he said, "Obviously all forms of hatred and bigotry are intolerable and we should go on the record in saying so."

But, Engel added, "I wish we had had a separate resolution about anti-Semitism. I think we deserved it. I think it was wrong not to have it ... but I want to say very clearly and very loudly that anti-Semitism will never be tolerated by me."

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of House GOP leadership and one of those who voted against the measure, said in a statement that the resolution was "a sham put forward by Democrats to avoid condemning one of their own and denouncing vile anti-Semitism."

"While I stand whole-heartedly against discrimination outlined in this resolution, the language before the House today did not address the issue that is front and center," Cheney said, adding that Omar "deserves to be rebuked, by name, and removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee so that there is no mistake about the values and priorities that the House stands for."

Some House Democrats came to Omar's defense, arguing that she had been held to a different standard as a woman of color.

"Of course there is," said Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who is one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, along with Omar, when asked on Wednesday if there is a double standard. "I think all of us women of color can see that."

Tlaib defended Omar, saying, "I know that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar really tries to push back against oppression, and as a Palestinian, I can tell you, when she speaks about those issues, what I hear is her trying to uplift my grandmother in Palestine in the West Bank."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said ahead of the vote on Thursday that she does not believe Omar's comments were "intended in any anti-Semitic way" and that Omar may not understand "the full weight" of how the remarks were interpreted.

Pelosi added, "But the fact is that's how it was interpreted and we have to remove all doubt as we have done over and over again."

The top House Democrat stopped short of saying that Omar needs to apologize, but did say that the freshman Democrat may still need to offer an explanation.

"She may need to explain that she did not -- it's up to her to explain, but I do not believe she understood the full weight of the words," Pelosi said in response to a question from a reporter on whether Omar needs to apologize.