After a week of brutal infighting over how to best respond to allegations of anti-Semitism, Democrats on Thursday presented a compromise that seemed unlikely to offend anyone: a resolution condemning bigotry and “hateful expressions of intolerance.”
Then, in an unexpected turn of events, 23 Republicans decided to vote against it.
Doing so put them in an awkward position: By opposing a resolution that denounced hate and bigotry, they could plausibly be seen as supporting those things. In public statements and floor speeches, most of the dissenters clarified that they were strongly opposed to hatred and discrimination but simply couldn’t get behind the measure. While their explanations varied, many criticized Democrats for not doing more to rebuke Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whose remarks criticizing supporters of Israel were seen by some as anti-Semitic, sparking the uproar that prompted the crafting of the resolution.
“This is a sham cover vote designed to avoid dealing with a rogue member,” declared Rep. Chip Roy (Tex.), one of the nearly two dozen Republican members of the House who voted no.
Originally, the resolution had only expressed opposition to anti-Semitism, but condemnations of anti-Muslim bigotry were added after critics began pointing out that Omar, a Muslim woman, had experienced prejudice, too. Later, the document grew to be seven pages long as denunciations of white supremacy were added, along with mentions of the discrimination historically faced by African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community and immigrants.
Omar ultimately voted in support of the resolution, which passed 407-23 on Thursday. The only dissenting votes came from Republicans.
As The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner reported, Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.) and several others objected to wording that encourages law enforcement “to avoid conduct that raises the specter of unconstitutional profiling” based on factors like religion and race. Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Collins (N.Y.) wrote on Twitter that he had voted against the resolution because he felt that it did not go far enough in expressing support of Israel.
For others, the problem was that the resolution didn’t single out Omar for censure. Calling the vote a “sham,” Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the GOP conference chairwoman, claimed that Democrats’ unwillingness to call out the freshman congresswoman by name was proof that the Democratic Party was “controlled by far-left extremists who can’t even muster the courage to stand up to blatant anti-Semitism.”
“By refusing to mention Rep. Ilhan Omar by name and allowing her to keep her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democrats have sent a message that anti-Semitism is less serious than other types of hate,” concurred Rep. Jeff Duncan (S.C.).
Before Thursday’s vote, Democrats had been divided over whether to rebuke Omar for her comments, as The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade reported. While many were quick to criticize her remarks and push for House leadership to take action, others insisted that her criticism was not intended to be anti-Semitic and argued that passing a resolution would be an unnecessary distraction.
Several Republicans complained that the resolution had been “watered down” when it was revised to condemn discrimination against various racial and religious minorities, instead of just anti-Semitism. One such critic was Rep. Louie Gohmert (Tex.), who said in a statement that all the edits to the resolution had made it “so generic that it lost its meaning or significance.”
Others expressed dismay that the final version, which highlighted the attacks on historically marginalized groups, did not mention white people and Christians. In an emailed statement, Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.) said that he voted against the resolution because its wording “suggests America’s House of Representatives cares about virtually everyone except Christians and Caucasians.” Discrimination against those groups, he argued, was “just as insidious as discrimination against any other race, ethnicity or religion.”
Similarly, Rep. K. Michael Conaway (Tex.) commented that the resolution “included the Democrats’ kitchen sink, but did not lend support to Christians, Mormons, and many other groups that face regular discrimination in this country and abroad.” He added that left-wing lawmakers needed to prove that they cared about all forms of bigotry, “not just instances that fit their progressive liberal agenda.”
“Now that the resolution protects just about every group on the planet, can we add ‘babies on the day of their birth’ as a protected class?” tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.), referencing a discredited right-wing talking point that has been used to criticize New York’s law allowing abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or the mother’s health is in jeopardy.
One Republican lawmaker who was notably silent during the hearing was Rep. Steve King (Iowa), who has a long history of making inflammatory remarks and was stripped of his committee assignments in January after he was quoted questioning how terms like “white nationalism” and “white supremacy” had become offensive. On Thursday, when the resolution came up for a vote, he marked himself as “present” rather than vote yes or no on condemning bigotry. He did not explain why he was abstaining from voting.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), who has clashed with Omar in the past and voted against the resolution, said in his own floor remarks that a double standard was at work. “In January, we all came to this chamber, we condemned white supremacy, we named a Republican member, we kicked that member off his committees,” he said, comparing King with Omar and suggesting that she should receive the same treatment. “He can’t serve on the Small Business Committee, but this member will continue to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”
Not long after the votes were tallied up on Thursday, Democrats began launching their own attacks.
“Where’s the outrage over the 23 GOP members who voted NO on a resolution condemning bigotry today?” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter. “Oh, there’s none? Did they get called out, raked over, ambushed in halls and relentlessly asked why not? No? Okay. Got it.”
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