Ilhan Omar defiant as Republicans oust her from key House committee

Minnesota Democrat accuses Republicans of trying to silence her because she is Muslim and vows to ‘advocate for a better world’

Republicans voted to expel Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar from the House foreign affairs committee on Thursday as punishment for her past remarks on Israel. Democrats objected, saying the move was about revenge after Democrats removed far-right extremists in the last Congress.

A majority of 218 GOP lawmakers supported Omar’s expulsion from the committee, which is tasked with handling legislation and holding hearings affecting America’s diplomatic relations. One Republican lawmaker voted “present”.

Omar struck a defiant note in a speech shortly before the votes were counted, accusing Republicans of trying to silence her because she is a Muslim immigrant, and promising to continue speaking out.

“Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy? Or that they see me as a powerful voice that needs to be silenced? Frankly, it is expected because when you push power, power pushes back,” Omar said.

“My leadership and voice will not be diminished. If I am not on this committee for one term, my voice will get louder and stronger and my leadership will be celebrated around the world as it has been. So take your votes or not. I am here to stay and I am here to be a voice against harms around the world and advocate for a better world.”

The Republican House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, had made removing Omar one of his first tasks after being elected the chamber’s leader last month following a lengthy battle with the party’s far right and 15 rounds of balloting. A small group of Republicans had initially objected to the effort, before changing their minds in recent days.

On Wednesday, the chamber voted on party lines to move forward with the resolution, which explicitly condemns comments Omar made about Israel that drew accusations by Republicans and some Democrats of antisemitism.

Omar has apologized and said she has come to understand her remarks played on antisemitic tropes.

The lawmaker, who in 2018 became one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, routinely faces violent threats and bigotry, including from other lawmakers.

She once called McCarthy a “liar and a coward” after he refused to condemn remarks by Lauren Boebert, a Colorado extremist Omar said was a “buffoon” and a “bigot”.

“These threats increase whenever Republicans put a target on my back,” Omar said on Wednesday, sharing audio of a death threat her office received. “They can continue to target me, but they will never stop me from fighting for a more just world.”

On Wednesday the Republican chair of the foreign affairs committee, Michael McCaul of Texas, told reporters: “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.”

Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, countered: “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.”

Omar has said her removal “is about revenge” and “appeasing the former president”, Donald Trump, who once said Omar and three other progressive congresswomen of color should “go back” to where they came from.

In a statement on Thursday, Jasmine Hawamdeh, communications manager for the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, said: “Representative Omar is constantly breaking barriers, and is unfairly targeted as the first Somali American, African immigrant and woman of color 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.”

Republican leaders have for weeks worked to assuage concerns among some party members that ousting Omar was no more than an act of retribution for Democrats removing Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona from committees in the last Congress.

The two rightwing extremists were expelled for aggressive and threatening behaviour including Gosar’s dissemination of a video which showed him attacking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York progressive, and menacing Joe Biden. Gosar was also censured.

Party leaders had previously removed members of their own party from committees. McCarthy did so in 2019, when the then Iowa congressman Steve King questioned why white supremacy was considered offensive. But McCarthy refused to take action against Greene or Gosar, which Democrats say forced them to take the then-unprecedented action of using their majority to remove members of the opposite party from committees.

Under McCarthy, both have returned to committees.

After the vote, the Democratic leader in the House, Hakeem Jeffries, tweeted that Omar’s removal was “highly partisan” and “about political revenge”. He announced he would appoint Omar to the budget committee, “where she will defend Democratic values against right-wing extremism”.

Associated Press contributed to reporting


Lauren Gambino and Chris Stein in Washington and Martin Pengelly in New York

The GuardianTramp

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