(Bloomberg) -- House Republicans successfully booted Democrat Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee, removing from the panel a Black Muslim woman who GOP lawmakers have blasted for making antisemitic and anti-Israel comments.
The 218-211 party-line vote marks a decisive victory for Speaker Kevin McCarthy who made last-minute deals to keep his fractious caucus together on a controversial vote Democrats criticized as an act of political revenge rooted in racism.
Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, has long been a target of Republicans who have accused her of using antisemitic tropes, for which she has since apologized, that disqualified her from serving on the panel.
“Words matter, rhetoric matters,” Representative Michael Lawler of New York, a freshman member of the committee, said on the floor. “It leads to harm. And so the congresswoman is being held accountable for her words and for her actions.”
Some other Republicans, however, saw removing her from the committee — one of McCarthy’s first moves as speaker — as unnecessary overreach.
One key Republican holdout, Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina, decided to vote to oust Omar after McCarthy promised to back a rules change that would require a vote of the Ethics Committee to remove someone from a committee in the future. The rules change requires a vote on the House floor.
McCarthy told reporters he wants to establish a code of conduct for the House and enforce it through committee removals voted on in the Ethics Committee.
Omar’s feuds with former President Donald Trump attracted the spotlight. In 2019, she drew heat for implying that American political support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.” She apologized publicly after critics in the chamber — some within her own party — said the comments were antisemitic.
“Is Ilhan Omar perfect? No. None of us are,” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said before the vote. “But this is not about accountability. This is about political revenge.”
After the vote, Jeffries said Omar would sit on the Budget Committee to “defend Democratic values against right-wing extremism.”
The House, under Democratic control, voted in February 2021 to remove Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene from the Education and Budget committees citing her incendiary tweets and statements, including support for QAnon conspiracy theories. Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in ousting her from the panels.
Another Republican, Paul Gosar, was removed from the Oversight and Natural Resources panels after posting an altered anime video that depicted him killing Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden. Two Republicans joined Democrats in that vote.
Representative Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on Foreign Affairs, called it a “shameful mark on this body” to oust the only African-born Muslim member of the panel. Omar, he said, had learned from past mistakes and provided valuable insight on the committee.
Omar fled Mogadishu during Somalia’s civil war and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp. She was one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, both elected in 2018, and was the first to wear a hijab on the House floor.
“Who gets to be an American? What opinions do you have to have to be counted as American?” Omar asked on the floor moments before the vote. “That is what this debate is about. There is this idea that you are suspect if you are an immigrant.”
House Democrats had withheld their official committee roster for days to buy time to garner more Republican opposition to the resolution, but the delay gave Republicans time to alter the resolution to address due process concerns. That won over a few potential defectors despite arguments from Democrats that the language is nonbinding.
“I think setting a precedent of allowing an appeal process for the Speaker’s and majority-party removal decisions is particularly important to freedom-loving legislators who usually are on the receiving end of issues like this,” Representative Victoria Spartz of Indiana, one of the holdouts, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Omar’s position on the committee has drawn mixed responses from within the Jewish community.
The Coalition for Jewish Values called for House members to back McCarthy’s vow to kick Omar off the committee in a letter on Tuesday while a group of liberal Jewish groups issued support for Omar’s tenure on the committee in December 2022.
Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is Jewish, backed Omar during a joint appearance on CNN, calling the argument that she’s antisemitic “a pretext” driven by McCarthy’s dependence on “extreme members” of his caucus. He cited Trump’s dinner with a white nationalist last year at his home in Florida.
Schiff, the manager of Trump’s first impeachment trial, was himself unilaterally stripped of a seat on the House Intelligence Committee by McCarthy earlier this week.
--With assistance from Billy House and Erik Wasson.
(Updates with Jeffries naming Omar to Budget Committee in ninth paragraph)
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