WASHINGTON (The Hill) — Frustration among House Democrats simmered on Wednesday over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) criticism of Israel, with lawmakers questioning how they should respond to the latest controversy surrounding the freshman lawmaker.
Progressive lawmakers and members of key minority caucuses argued that voting on a resolution implicitly aimed at Omar — one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress — played into GOP hands trying to exacerbate Democratic divisions.
“I think it’s inappropriate to just focus on one person. I absolutely do,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Bass also said the spotlight on Omar was creating real-world security risks for the freshman lawmaker.
“I also think, frankly, that it puts her at risk to focus on her. You know, she’s already received death threats,” Bass said.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a Progressive Caucus leader, expressed frustration that the focus on Omar’s remarks was making it easier for Republicans to sow divisions among Democrats.
“We are now in the majority and the Republicans have an intent to try to divide us whenever they can. So what processes can we as a caucus put in place so that we don’t help them to do that?” Jayapal said
Other Democrats believe that Omar should be held accountable for her comments.
“I disagree with what was said. And I think there should be an apology,” said Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas), a freshman who represents a swing district.
House Democratic leaders began crafting a resolution over the weekend to condemn anti-Semitism in the wake of Omar’s latest comments. Wednesday’s meeting offered the first caucus-wide discussion since that measure began circulating.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged during the closed-door meeting that “we have some internal issues,” according to a Democratic aide, but advised lawmakers: “Don’t question the motivations of our colleagues.”
She sought to downplay the internal divisions and blamed the media for hyping them.
“If you say the bacon is not crispy enough, they’ll have an article about this unrest and unease in the Democratic Party,” Pelosi said.
Staff for Democratic leaders began drafting the resolution over the weekend, after House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) issued a statement accusing Omar of “invoking a vile anti-Semitic slur.”
A vote had initially been expected on Wednesday, but aides said Democratic leaders have pushed it back as they make changes to the resolution to make it more inclusive and broadly condemn hate, including Islamophobia.
The House could vote as soon as Thursday, but a plan has not been finalized.
“There are ongoing discussions with all of the stakeholders within the House Democratic Caucus about the appropriate way to proceed,” caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters.
A draft resolution began circulating on Monday that did not specifically name Omar, but states that the House “rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.” The resolution did state that “accusations of dual loyalty generally have an insidious, bigoted history.”
During an event last week at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington, D.C., Omar said critics were making accusations of anti-Semitism in bad faith.
“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,” Omar said. “I want to ask, why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the [National Rifle Association] NRA, of fossil-fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?”
Omar attended the caucus meeting on Wednesday but did not make remarks, according to attendees.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is Jewish, said Omar has personally apologized to her for past remarks. The House adopted a similar measure condemning anti-Semitism last month after Omar apologized for suggesting that U.S. lawmakers defending Israel were motivated by money.
Schakowsky suggested that Democrats should keep their disagreements off of social media.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) defended Omar on Twitter and went after Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) for saying that “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”
And Omar had doubled down on her comments in response to a tweet from House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who had called her remarks “hurtful.”
“I do not believe that Ilhan Omar is anti-Semitic. And I absolutely believe that she has become, as a result [of the comments], a target. I think the Republicans love that, and frankly, I think media loves to exploit the divisions. And I think we can do better in how we express ourselves. I think we ought to stay off of social media to have these conversations,” Schakowsky said.