U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise continues to call for a Minnesota congresswoman's removal from the influential Foreign Affairs Committee, amid controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar's remarks that have been widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
"If you agree that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and bad policy, then why do you continue to leave a member who is anti-Semitic on the committee that deals with the foreign policy of this nation?" Scalise, a Jefferson Parish Republican, asked House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, on the chamber floor Friday. "Foreign Affairs is a plum spot — many members on both sides want to get on that committee.”
Scalise, who is the No. 2 Republican in the Democrat-controlled House, has been a vocal critic of Omar in recent days as the freshman congresswoman has come under fire, from members of both parties, for her recent comments during a public forum and on social media about Israel and its supporters.
“I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee,” Omar tweeted Sunday, drawing swift rebukes from Democratic leaders. “I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks.”
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Omar has defended her remarks as questioning Israel and particularly its treatment of Palestinians.
"Being opposed to (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic. I am grateful to the many Jewish allies who have spoken out and said the same," she added on Twitter.
But her comments prompted the U.S. House to move swiftly to adopt a resolution condemning hatred and bigotry. Hoyer said Democrats have been clear on their position.
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“We have now twice taken action to make clear that hate, prejudice and bigotry are not the policies of this Congress, this country and should not be the policies of any of our members rhetorically,” he said. “Anti-Semitism is unacceptable — the resolution made that very clear, and, yes, it did include other forms and other objects of hate and prejudice and bigotry.”
Every Democrat in the chamber voted for the resolution, while 23 Republicans voted against it.
Scalise said some GOP members felt that the resolution "fell short" as it didn't directly call out Omar. He repeatedly urged that House leaders remove Omar from her foreign affairs post.
"When you go to other countries and meet with officials, if you say you're on the foreign policy committee, it is a higher level of respect and acknowledgment that implies your views represent the views of the United States Congress," Scalise said.
Scalise's continued criticism of Omar prompted another Democrat in the chamber to question his motivations. Omar is a Somalia-born Muslim and the first member of Congress to wear a hijab.
"Hard to watch Rep. Scalise demand that Rep. (Omar) be removed from House Foreign Affairs (without) wondering if it’s steeped in Islamophobia," U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who is also Muslim, tweeted Wednesday. "Ilhan is more than capable of sitting on the committee & making decisions that are in the best interests of her constituents & all Americans."
Scalise has in the past faced questions about his views on race but denies that he's a racist or bigot.
“We appreciate the diversity that we have," he said Friday of the GOP caucus. "We obviously strive to be more diverse.”