House GOP looks to prove whipping mettle on Omar ouster
After a flip-flop-filled struggle, the House GOP’s whip operation appears poised to pass its first major test: booting progressive Ilhan Omar from a prized committee spot.
Just days ago, it seemed like a real possibility Speaker Kevin McCarthy — despite his projected confidence — could lose his long-threatened vow to remove the Minnesota progressive from the Foreign Affairs Committee. Then Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who initially said he would vote against kicking her off, switched to yes on Wednesday, after Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) flipped the same way the day before.
That leaves Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) as the sole GOP member indicating she’ll still vote to allow Omar on the committee.
“We’ve watched what she has done,” McCarthy said Tuesday morning to reporters. “I just think she can serve on other committees. It would be best if the Democrats didn’t put her in the position of Foreign Affairs. If they do, she will not serve on Foreign Affairs. They can choose another committee for her.”
The House Rules Committee held an “emergency meeting” Tuesday night to push through the resolution on Omar, and a procedural vote to move forward passed the House Wednesday along party lines. That teed up a full House vote on whether to officially kick Omar off the committee as early as Thursday, though Republicans could be forced to punt the vote into next week due to a handful of expected absences.
The resolution to remove her was introduced by first-term Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), who is Jewish and says he has not spoken with Omar personally. He cited various comments she has made with antisemitic overtones, while also arguing that Democrats watered down a resolution to condemn her for those remarks in 2019 when they held the majority. Omar, for her part, has largely apologized for her previous comments.
“As an American Jew and as somebody who served in the Marine Corps, I believe that her comments are vile. And while she may have apologized in the past, she continues to erect a pattern of antisemitic rhetoric,” said Miller in an interview about his motivations for leading the resolution.
Miller added that he put forward the resolution ”in conjunction” with McCarthy, and that he ”obviously expressed interest in wanting to carry this resolution as one of two Republican Jewish individuals within the conference.”
Democrats, meanwhile, blasted the move as political revenge and are set to unanimously back Omar against the effort to remove her from the panel. She was set to become the top Democrat on a subcommittee on African policy.
“Kevin McCarthy is acting out of revenge instead of focusing on the real issues,” said No. 2 House Democrat Katherine Clark (Mass.) in the caucus’ weekly whip meeting Wednesday morning, according to a person in the room. “How does he speak of ‘integrity’ while packing committees with election deniers?” she added.
And Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a fellow member of the progressive “squad,” praised Omar as an “incredible legislator” and said “the Republicans are full of shit.”
Just days ago, three GOP lawmakers were vowing to oppose the resolution, and party leaders could only afford to lose four votes assuming full attendance. And that was far from guaranteed, as they’d expressed concerns over potential absences, including one GOP member who is recovering from serious injuries.
Those concerns were mostly assuaged by Wednesday. Spartz (R-Ind.) said Tuesday she would back the measure after it was tweaked to include language about an appeal to the Ethics Committee, despite it containing in a nonbinding “whereas” clause with no legal teeth. And Buck also changed his position Wednesday, saying “the commitment is that [McCarthy] will work with me on clarifying what the standard here is” on removing members from committees, as well as making the process “more transparent and consistent.”
Generally, Republicans argue Omar can serve on other committees and say this is a watered-down resolution compared to a Democratic-led votes to remove Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) from their committees. Democrats took those actions, with some Republican support, over threatening comments and social media posts made by both lawmakers — statements GOP lawmakers are quick to point out that, in Greene’s case, were made before she was sworn into Congress.
Republicans warned at the time that if Democrats wanted to change the longstanding precedent of allowing parties to decide panel assignments and removals internally, then they, too, would have those tools at their disposal when in power. Now, they’re making good on that promise.
“We are taking an unprecedented rule that the Democrats put in place last Congress and using it effectively against them,” Miller said.
Some Democrats have since expressed concern about how the Gosar and Greene situations were handled, with Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the Ethics Committee, saying in Tuesday’s Rules Committee meeting she didn’t think “it was the correct process” when the two Republicans were booted. Wild voted in favor of removing both at the time.
The lack of Democratic support for removing Omar, though, is in part a product of time. In her previous two terms, Omar faced intense pushback from some in the caucus over her controversial comments about Israel and Jews, and while some Democrats may have even supported a measure back then to condemn her remarks, one never came up on the House floor. The House instead passed a resolution generally condemning bigotry. Since then, she’s worked to mend relationships with her fellow lawmakers.
The vote follows McCarthy’s announcement last week that he would block two California Democrats — Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell — from the House Intelligence Committee. McCarthy can take unilateral action against members on that committee, due to the nature of the panel, while removing Omar requires a majority vote in the House.
But Republicans may not get total unification in booting Omar. Mace said Wednesday afternoon her opposition to removing Omar has not changed. When it was noted that both Buck and Spartz had flipped after receiving certain commitments from McCarthy, Mace distinguished that those promises regard “future” incidents, but the GOP leader is not “gonna use it for Omar.”