The Republican-led House of Representatives voted after raucous debate Thursday to oust Democrat Ilhan Omar from the chamber's Foreign Affairs Committee, citing her anti-Israel comments, in a dramatic escalation after Democrats last session booted far-right GOP lawmakers over incendiary remarks.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was able to solidify Republican support against the Somali-born Muslim woman in the new Congress, although some GOP lawmakers had expressed reservations. Removal of lawmakers from House committees was essentially unprecedented until the Democratic ousters two years ago of hard-right Republican Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona.
The 218-211 vote, along party lines, came after a heated, voices-raised debate in which Democrats accused the GOP of targeting Omar based on her race. Omar defended herself on the House floor, asking if anyone was surprised she was being targeted, "because when you push power, power pushes back." Democratic colleagues hugged and embraced their colleague during the vote.
"My voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world," Omar said in a closing speech.
Republicans focused on six statements Omar has made that, "under the totality of the circumstances, disqualify her from serving on the Committee of Foreign Affairs," said Representative Michael Guest, a Mississippi Republican.
"All members, both Republicans and Democrats alike who seek to serve on Foreign Affairs, should be held to the highest standard of conduct due to the international sensitivity and national security concerns under the jurisdiction of this committee," Guest said.
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Omar has at times "made mistakes" and used antisemitic tropes that were condemned by House Democrats four years ago. But that's not what Thursday's vote was about, he said.
"It's not about accountability, it's about political revenge," Jeffries said.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, went one step further, saying that the GOP's action was one of the "disgusting legacies after 9/11," a reference to the September 11, 2001, attack — "the targeting and racism against Muslim Americans throughout the United States of America. And this is an extension of that legacy."
She added, "This is about targeting women of color."
Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She is also the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber after floor rules were changed to allow members to wear head coverings for religious reasons.
She quickly generated controversy after entering Congress in 2019 with a pair of tweets that suggested lawmakers who supported Israel were motivated by money.
In the first, she criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. "It's all about the Benjamins baby," she wrote, invoking slang about $100 bills.
Asked on Twitter who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded, "AIPAC!"
She soon apologized.
"We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me about my identity," Omar tweeted. "This is why I unequivocally apologize."
Democrats rallied in a fiery defense of Omar and the experiences she brings to the Congress. Black, Latino and progressive lawmakers in particular spoke of her unique voice in the House and criticized Republicans for what they called a racist attack.
"Racist gaslighting," said Representative Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat. A "revenge resolution," said Democratic Representative Primila Jayapal of Washington state, the chair of the progressive caucus.
"It's so painful to watch," said Michigan Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib, who joined Congress with Omar in 2019 as the first two female Muslims elected to the House.
"To Congresswoman Omar, I am so sorry that our country is failing you today through this chamber," Tlaib said through tears. "You belong on that committee."
Her 'worldview of Israel' challenged
The chairman of the committee, Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, argued for excluding Omar from the panel during a recent closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans.
"It's just that her worldview of Israel is so diametrically opposed to the committee's," McCaul told reporters in describing his stance. "I don't mind having differences of opinion, but this goes beyond that."
McCarthy has already blocked Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, from rejoining the House Intelligence Committee once the GOP took control of the chamber in January. While appointments to the intelligence panel are the prerogative of the speaker, the action on Omar required a House vote.
Several Republicans skeptical of removing Omar wanted "due process" for lawmakers who face removal. McCarthy said he told them he would work with Democrats on creating a due process system, but acknowledged it's still a work in progress.