WASHINGTON: US House of Representatives Republicans on Thursday ousted Democrat Ilhan Omar from a high-profile committee over remarks widely condemned as antisemitic, two years after Democrats removed two Republicans from committee assignments.
The deeply divided House voted 218-211 along party lines to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee with Republicans citing the 2019 remarks for which she later apologized. One Republican voted “present.”
Omar, who arrived in the United States as a refugee from Somalia, is the only African-born member of Congress and one of the only Muslim women in the House. She was in line to be the top Democrat on the foreign affairs panel’s Africa subcommittee.
Shortly after the vote, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries made a countermove, announcing that he intends to appoint Omar to a seat on the Budget Committee “where she will defend Democratic values against right-wing extremism.”
Republicans, who won a narrow House majority in November’s election after years in the minority, said they wanted Omar, a third-term House member, off Foreign Affairs for statements that included a 2019 tweet which read, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” suggesting that Israel’s supporters in US politics were motivated by money rather than principle.
Benjamin Franklin, whose signature on the 1776 Declaration of Independence and 1787 US Constitution earned him the reputation as a founding father, is portrayed on the $100 bill.
During debate, Republican Mike Lawler said, “Words matter, rhetoric matters. It leads to harm. The congresswoman is being held accountable for her words and her actions.”
Omar and other Democrats said that any such remarks were made years ago and that Omar had deleted the posts and apologized at the time.
Moments before the House expelled her from the committee, a defiant Omar said, “My leadership and voice will not be diminished if I am not on this committee … my voice will get louder and stronger.”
Omar has said in the past that US forces and those of other countries should be held to the same standards of accountability when their actions hurt or kill civilians.
The ouster, led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, was viewed by Democrats as revenge for their voting in 2021 to remove Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from their committee assignments after incendiary remarks.
In 2021, Greene had compared COVID-19 mask requirements and vaccinations to the Nazi Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews. She eventually apologized. Before her 2020 election to Congress, she voiced unfounded conspiracy theories, including an antisemitic claim suggesting a space laser possibly was used to deliberately start a California wildfire.
Gosar had posted a video on social media showing him appearing to kill another House member, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Omar and Ocasio-Cortez initially comprised half of a group of progressive House Democrats elected in 2018 who became known as “The Squad” and included Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. The movement has since grown.
McCarthy has given committee assignments to both Greene and Gosar as well as George Santos, a newly elected representative who has admitted to fabricating much of his resume, although Santos has temporarily stepped away from those assignments while working to clear up questions about his ethics.
Before the vote, Jeffries told reporters that Democrats had condemned Omar’s “Benjamins” remark.
“There has been accountability. Ilhan Omar has apologized. She has indicated she’ll learn from her mistakes” and was “building bridges” with the Jewish community. “This isn’t about accountability. It’s about political revenge.”
McCarthy previously rejected assignments of Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Both played major roles in the impeachments of Republican former President Donald Trump