Recently, two high-profile lawmakers faced harsh rebuke for discriminatory comments. Their responses to the public, and to party leadership, were radically different — and very revealing.
A Politico Playbook put it:
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: PELOSI, STENY HOYER and JIM CLYBURN rebuked Omar, and she apologized. When Republicans rebuked Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), he railed against them.
On Sunday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D.-Minn.) responded to criticism of her position on Israel by tweeting, “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” In subsequent comments, Omar said she believes the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is paying lawmakers to be pro-Israel.
Many people, including top Democrats, quickly pushed back, saying Omar was perpetuating stereotypes about Jews. After meeting with Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), the freshman lawmaker apologized.
“We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism,” she tweeted, “just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Omar’s apology, and the speed at which it was offered, is quite different from how Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) responded when he came under fire for his comments about race. Last month, King asked in an interview with the New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
At the time, King’s remarks were deemed racist and widely criticized by Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) removed King from his committee assignments.
But King refused to apologize. Though he didn’t deny his quote in the Times, he painted the outrage against him as a political witch hunt. “Leader McCarthy’s decision to remove me from committees is a political decision that ignores the truth,” he said. “Ultimately, I told him, ‘You have to do what you have to do, and I will do what I have to do.’ ”
King has remained defiant. He used the controversy to fundraise.
And he’s continued to push McCarthy to reverse his decision. He tweeted Tuesday:
“200 pro-family leaders wrote GOP Leader McCarthy asking him ‘to do the right thing’ & reinstate my committees. They know when the ‘outrageous misquote’ of a biased & liberal NYTimes takes free rein to ‘falsely brand’ Republicans, no conservative is safe.”
Omar’s apology — and King’s defiance — might reflect the mood of Democratic and Republican voters. Democrats want leaders who take discrimination seriously. The Republican base is looking for leaders who push back against “political correctness.”
Perhaps no politician embodies this more fully than President Trump, who responded to King’s comments much differently than he did to those of Omar. The president, a regular consumer of cable news, told journalists he hadn’t followed the King story.
His response to Omar was much different. He responded to the controversy promptly and from the Oval Office. “I think she should either resign from Congress,” he said. “Or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”
Despite an absence of showing repentance personally for disrespecting historically marginalized groups, Trump demands such from his political opponents. And this approach — more or less a double standard — among other things is not likely to change as it has won him significant support from Republicans — and especially those in his base.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article including an incorrect first name for Kevin McCarthy.