Republicans in the United States House of Representatives are preparing to oust Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
A vote on the resolution to remove the Democratic Party leader is expected on Thursday (2 February).
This comes as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Representative from California, blocked Democratic Representatives Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff from rejoining the House Intelligence Committee.
Why do the Republicans want Congresswoman Ilhan Omar out of the powerful committee? What have the reactions been to the development? We explain.
Ilhan Omar’s past remarks
GOP lawmakers want to boot Omar for her previous remarks on Israel, which were deemed “antisemitic” by both Democrats and Republicans.
As per The Washington Post report, Omar caused a stir in 2019 when she suggested that “Israel’s allies in US politics were motivated by money rather than principle” through her tweet, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” – referring to US$100 bills.
Her remark was condemned by Republicans as well as her own party, with the then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issuing a statement calling Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” deeply offensive.
Omar had apologised for her comments, saying she did not intend to offend “my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. . . . This is why I unequivocally apologise.”
In 2021, Omar was accused by a group of Jewish House Democrats of likening the US and Israel to the Taliban and Hamas, a Palestinian militant group designated by America as a terrorist group.
Responding to the allegation, Omar had said she was “in no way equating terrorist organisations with democratic countries”, reported CNN.
Republicans want Omar out
House Republicans have argued that Omar, a former refugee of Somali descent, should not be on the committee for what McCarthy described as “repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks”, reported The Washington Post.
“We’ve watched what she has done,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday morning. “I just think she can serve on other committees. It would be best if the Democrats didn’t put her in the position of Foreign Affairs. If they do, she will not serve on Foreign Affairs. They can choose another committee for her,” he was quoted as saying by Politico.
McCarthy said late Wednesday that he will have “enough votes” to remove Omar.
Republicans, who command the House with a slim majority, need all their lawmakers to vote in unison in order to remove Omar.
“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Republican Representative Max L Miller, who is Jewish and brought the resolution against the Minnesota Democrat, said, as per The Washington Post.
Republican Representatives Ken Buck and Victoria Spartz, who earlier said they would not support the resolution against Omar, have now flipped.
Now, Nancy Mace is the sole Republican lawmaker who has signalled that she will vote to keep Omar on the committee, reported Politico.
Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has also pushed for removing Omar.
As per Associated Press (AP), he told fellow Republicans at a recent closed-door meeting, “It’s just that her worldview of Israel is so diametrically opposed to the committee’s”.
“I don’t mind having differences of opinion, but this goes beyond that.”
Reactions to Republicans’ bid to oust Omar
Congressional Democrats have hit out at Republicans to keep Schiff, Swalwell and Omar away from committees, calling it an “act of political revenge”, reported CNN.
Omar, who became one of the first Muslim women elected to US Congress in 2018, told CNN last week that her ouster was “motivated by the fact that many of these members don’t believe a Muslim, a refugee, an African should even be in Congress, let alone have the opportunity to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee”.
She said at a press conference at the US Capitol that the issues cited by Republicans to kick her out are a pretext to justify their actions, claiming, in reality “it is about revenge. It’s about appeasing the former president” – Donald Trump, reported AP.
Omar said she, Schiff and Swalwell, who were House managers in Trump’s impeachment trials, “have been a thorn in the back of the previous, disgraced president.”
Trump has earlier targeted Omar with racist attacks, saying that she, along with other progressive Congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”, reported Al Jazeera.
Defending Omar, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the Minnesota Democrat brings a “powerful perspective” to the committee and accused Republicans of engaging in a “disgusting form of targeting.”
As per The Guardian, Jasmine Hawamdeh, the communications manager for the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, said in a statement: “Representative Omar is constantly breaking barriers, and is unfairly targeted as the first Somali-American, African immigrant and woman of colour to be elected to Congress from Minnesota.
“She has earned an equal platform so that we can continue hearing her voice on matters of international importance, such as human rights protections around the globe.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) also backed Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” lawmaker.
“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement, as per Al Jazeera.
With inputs from agencies