House overwhelmingly passes broad measure condemning hate

The vote reflected Democratic leaders’ concerns that the issue is overshadowing their agenda.

  • Mike DeBonis, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner The Washington Post
  • Thursday, March 7, 2019 3:00pm
  • Nation-World

By Mike DeBonis, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed a measure broadly condemning hate, as Democrats seek to move past a controversy over alleged anti-Semitic comments from freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar.

The resolution condemns anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bias in equal measure, a shift from a draft circulated Monday that rebuked only anti-Semitism. Neither mentions Omar, D-Minn., or her comments specifically.

“It’s not about her,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of Omar at a news conference. “It’s about these forms of hatred.”

Thursday’s vote reflected Democratic leaders’ concerns that the acrimonious issue is overshadowing their legislative agenda, including the expected passage Friday of a sweeping election and ethics reform bill.

But even the new resolution had problems. The vote was briefly delayed Thursday afternoon as House leaders made further changes to the resolution, broadening it again to acknowledge prejudice against even more minority groups.

Omar suggested last week that Israel’s supporters have an “allegiance to a foreign country,” remarks that angered some Democrats who saw them as hateful tropes and who pushed to condemn the freshman lawmaker. Her defenders argued that leadership was applying a double standard in singling out one of the two Muslim women in Congress.

The resolution posted Thursday indirectly repudiates Omar’s comments, saying that “accusations of dual loyalty generally have an insidious and pernicious history” and noting that such an accusation “constitutes anti-Semitism because it suggests that Jewish citizens cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors.”

But it also includes language condemning anti-Muslim bigotry “as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contrary to the values and aspirations of the United States,” and condemns incidents of mosque bombings and planned domestic terrorist attacks targeting Muslim communities.

Omar, a Somali American immigrant, has spoken about religiously motivated verbal attacks and threats she has been subjected to. Last week, a sign was posted in the West Virginia state Capitol falsely linking her to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The decision to sanction Omar for her “allegiance” comments without mentioning the hatred she had faced – as well as incidents of intolerance concerning President Donald Trump and other Republicans – infuriated many Democrats and prompted a backlash at the initial plans to condemn anti-Semitism specifically.

That forced Democratic leaders to chart a delicate path to navigate the sensitivities of their own caucus.

Earlier Thursday, the announcement that the House would move forward with a resolution came from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in a closed-door meeting, after Democratic aides had played down the potential for quick action the night before. But those aides said Thursday that leaders were determined to extinguish the firestorm as quickly as possible, fearful that Republicans could use it to derail the reform bill, known as H.R. 1.

“I do not believe that she understood the full weight of the words,” Pelosi told reporters. “I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude.”

The seven-page resolution that passed the House acknowledges at one part that white supremacists have targeted “traditionally persecuted peoples, including African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.”

The version circulated earlier Thursday did not include Latinos, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders or the LGBTQ community.

Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, criticized the way Democrats handled the resolution. In remarks on the House floor, he asked why Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses or people with disabilities were not included, as well as lawmakers such as himself who are not members of marginalized groups but who have nonetheless received death threats.

“How long does it take to figure out, just don’t hate?” Collins asked. “Evil is evil.”

Some lawmakers who sought to craft a response specifically condemning anti-Semitism spoke out on the House floor Thursday to argue that the measure should have been kept narrow.

“There is too much hatred, too many other people who are targeted, and we need to support all of them,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. “But we are having this debate because of the language of one of our colleagues – language that suggests Jews like me who serve in the United States in Congress and whose father earned a Purple Heart fighting the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge, that we are not loyal Americans. Why are we unable to singularly condemn anti-Semitism? Why can’t we call out anti-Semitism and show we’ve learned the lessons of history?”

Numerous other Democrats expressed hope earlier Thursday that the new resolution could help Democrats put the Omar controversy behind them.

Noting the front-page coverage the controversy has received, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said, “We want to put this thing to bed before we do H.R. 1, which is a really important bill.” She referred to the ethics and election reform bill.

She lashed out at reporters for covering the controversy surrounding Omar rather than the legislation: “I just think that it is shameful that it is being exploited, not just by the Republicans, but also by the press.”

Republicans have sought to capitalize politically on the Democratic division, eager to position their party as the more reliable ally of Israel – and the more appealing choice for Jewish voters who have long trended Democratic – ahead of the 2020 elections.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., chided House Democratic leaders for not acting more quickly.

“Apparently within the speaker’s new far-left Democratic majority, even a symbolic – symbolic – resolution condemning anti-Semitism seems to be a bridge too far,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

In an acrimonious, closed-door Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday morning, lawmakers debated whether to vote on an anti-hate measure in response to Omar.

The session quickly became rancorous, reflecting splinters over wider issues such as America’s long-standing support for Israel, the appropriate response to racial and religious grievances and a new generation’s reliance on social media.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that it was “shameful” that Democrats were not taking a stronger stand against anti-Semitism in their ranks: “Anti-Semitism has fueled atrocities throughout history and it’s inconceivable they will not act to condemn it!”

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