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House Republicans vote to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., departs a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 26.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., departs a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 26.

Updated February 2, 2023 at 12:48 PM ET

House Republicans have voted to remove Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee, citing past controversial comments she made about Israel and concerns over her objectivity.

The vote was 218-211 along party lines.

In her first term, Omar drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for tweets that invoked antisemitic tropes. She apologized for those tweets but has remained outspoken about the influence of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby, on U.S. politics.

The resolution, introduced by Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, stated that Omar "has disqualified herself from serving on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, a panel that is viewed by nations around the world as speaking for Congress on matters of international importance and national security."

Miller, who is one of two Jewish Republicans in the House, said in a statement that Omar "cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people."

Omar, who herself has faced anti-Muslim bigotry since taking office, told reporters last week that the move to remove her from the committee was "purely partisan."

In an emotional speech on the House floor Thursday, Omar said she is being targeted for her identity as a Muslim immigrant from Africa.

"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?" she said. "I didn't come to Congress to be silent."

Her experiences as an immigrant and refugee who survived a civil war give her a valuable and unique perspective on American foreign policy, she added.

Democrats rebuked Omar for her past comments at the time, but they united around her ahead of the vote. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Thursday the motion to remove her was not about accountability, but "political revenge."

"Rep. Omar certainly has made mistakes," Jeffries told reporters. "Ilhan Omar has apologized. She has indicated that she'll learn from her mistakes, is working to build bridges ... with the Jewish community."

Republicans cite Democrats' votes to strip GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar of their committee assignments in 2021 as precedent for the Omar move.

Greene lost her committee assignments over her own history of engaging with antisemitism, conspiracy theories and calls for political violence. Gosar was censured by the House after he shared a cartoon video that showed him murdering Democratic colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Greene and Gosar have regained their committee spots under the new Republican House majority.

GOP leadership also recently blocked California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from serving on the House Intelligence Committee.

Some Republicans have been calling for Omar's removal from the committee for years. But others voiced concerns about due process this week, and with a razor-thin Republican majority, it wasn't clear that the resolution had enough votes to pass.

Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., supported the move only after language was added allowing members to appeal their removal to the House Ethics Committee. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., dropped his opposition after a conversation with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy Wednesday, in which Buck proposed future removals be handled by a majority vote in the evenly split Ethics Committee.

"He committed to the process of getting something like that done," Buck said Wednesday, adding that Congress needs to "stop this nonsense of kicking people off committees because it's just wrong."

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., had voiced opposition to the move throughout the week. But Thursday she told reporters she would vote yes after McCarthy committed to creating a process to handle removals through the Ethics Committee in the next 30 days.

"We shook hands ... and I got this commitment from him," Mace said. "Due process is very important to me, and preserving the institution is what this will do."

Omar has faced accusations of antisemitism since 2019

Omar first came under fire for comments on Israel in February 2019, when she posted tweets that invokedtropes about Jewish wealth and influence on U.S. politics. The tweets received bipartisan criticism, and Omar shortly after issued an apology, saying she was "listening and learning" about "the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes."

The next month, Omar again drew condemnation for comments criticizing pro-Israel lobbying in American politics. In a speech at a political event, she said, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. I want to ask why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policies?"

Many saw these comments as suggesting American Jews have "dual loyalty" — a smear used to harass and persecute Jewish people throughout history. The remarks prompted the House to approve a resolution condemning "anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry."

In 2021, Omar drew criticism for comments that appeared to equate the United States and Israel with terror groups. In a tweet about the role of the International Criminal Court, she said that "we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban."

After a group of 12 Democrats denounced Omar's comments, she issued a clarification: "To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those [International Criminal Court] cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel," she wrote in a press release.

"I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems," she added.

In 2018, Omar became one of the first Muslim women elected to the House and, along with other progressive women of color, has been a target of vicious attacks since.

In 2019, then-President Donald Trump tweeted that Omar and her colleagues often known as "the squad" should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." At one of the former president's rallies, the mention of Omar — who was born in Somalia and spent time in a refugee camp — drew chants of "send her back" from the crowd.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.