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House GOP moves to oust Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs Committee

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) speak during a news conference in response to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's vow to block them from being a part the Intelligence Committee, and Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Capitol Hill on Jan. 25 in Washington, D.C. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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House Republicans are readying to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as early as Thursday, fulfilling a pledge years in the making.

After GOP leaders were able to secure enough support for the resolution that also condemns Omar for past antisemitic remarks late Tuesday, the House Rules Committee quickly approved a rule that sets the parameters for debate on the House floor ahead of a final vote. The rule passed Wednesday along party lines and Democrats formally approved which lawmakers will serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee, teeing up final approval for Thursday.

Republican leaders have worked for weeks to ensure that there were enough votes to pass a resolution removing Omar from the committee through their razor-thin majority margin, which stands at three as Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) remains away from Washington recuperating from a traumatic fall. Opposition to the effort emerged last month as four lawmakers signaled that they wouldn’t support the measure, citing concerns that it would continue a precedent set by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) when she was House speaker.

But the inclusion within the four-page resolution of a provision that Republicans argue provides due process to Omar seems to have appeased at least one crucial voter, as Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) announced Tuesday that she would now support the measure. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said Wednesday he will now support the measure after Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) signaled a willingness to working on instituting a new rule that would make “it clearer and more difficult to remove people” from committees in the future.

“I am going to vote for removing Omar under the Pelosi standard, and hopefully we change the rules to be much more stringent,” he said.

Senior Republican aides said the agreement with Buck could sway Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) to also vote for the resolution. The aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline private whip counts, said they have the votes to pass the measure.

House Republicans had set their sights on removing Omar after she had made what McCarthy recently described as “repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks” throughout her four years in office. The resolution, if adopted, would explicitly condemn Omar for using an antisemitic trope to suggest Israel’s allies in U.S. politics were motivated by money rather than principle in a 2019 tweet that read, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”

The resolution also disapproves of her repeated critiques of Israel and her comparisons of actions by the United States to those of terrorist groups, which she later clarified by saying, “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” said Rep. Max L. Miller (R-Ohio), who introduced the resolution and is one of the two Jewish Republicans in the House.

In response, Omar defended herself by noting that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees. We vote our districts.”

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Omar, a refugee from Somalia, is one of the first Muslim women to serve in the House of Representatives and often faces vicious death threats whenever attention is drawn to her previous remarks. She is often assigned security by the U.S. Capitol Police on the basis of credible death threats, which in one case led to a man receiving three years’ probation for his actions.

The examples in the resolution were brought up by GOP leaders during Republicans’ weekly conference meeting last week and again Tuesday, according to several people who attended the gatherings. The reminder of her past remarks helped win over some members who were skeptical about whether to support the resolution, but it did not win over everyone, including one lawmaker who remarked that it served as “a threatening message to members.”

While party leaders and their steering committees have previously removed their own lawmakers from committees as punishment, Pelosi and the Democratic majority established the cross-party precedent last term after they removed Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) from their committees after both expressed support for violence against prominent Democrats in social media posts.

Last week, McCarthy fulfilled his pledge of removing Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. McCarthy claimed Schiff politicized the committee after conducting the first impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump and mentioned Swalwell’s alleged ties to a Chinese intelligence operative, which have gone unproven.

McCarthy has unilateral authority as speaker to remove any lawmaker from a select committee, such as the Intelligence Committee. But House Foreign Affairs is a standing committee, and removing a member from it requires a vote of the full House. Although Democrats have previously condemned Omar’s remarks, leaders plan to stand by her to try to block any effort to remove her from committees.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), and Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) met late Tuesday to briefly discuss next steps regarding when to approve the Democratic lawmakers they have tapped to serve on Foreign Affairs, knowing that the move would quickly be followed by a final vote to expel Omar from it. Jeffries informally named Omar to serve on Foreign Affairs last week, but unanimous approval on the floor is traditionally required to validate those decisions.

Democrats were rattled by how quickly Republicans moved to tee up the vote against Omar once they were able to whip enough support for the measure. The Rules Committee convened for its hearing using an “emergency” measure that allows it to meet imminently, skirting House rules Republicans approved last month that stated that members must have 72 hours to review any legislation before a vote.

“What’s the next emergency? An emergency meeting to tell Donald Trump you miss him? It’s clear to me what this is all about: retaliation, vengeance and spite,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), the top Democrat on the committee.

Republicans gained assurance from Spartz after they added a clause to their resolution that states “any Member reserves the right to bring a case before the Committee on Ethics as grounds for an appeal to the Speaker of the House for reconsideration of any committee removal decision.”

Rep. Susan Wild (Pa.), the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, poked holes in the GOP argument that this would give members a form of due process, given that the appeal process would happen after a decision by the full House is taken and that the only way to restore Omar’s post on Foreign Affairs would require another vote by the House.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Guest (R-Miss.) admitted as much when questioned by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) when he noted, “There’s an appellate process; there’s not due process,” before noting that he did not draft the resolution.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said he would much prefer that both parties acknowledge that there are people within their conferences who make offensive and crude remarks but allow them to “battle it out in committees” rather than strip the opposing party of that right. But because Democrats pulled Republicans off their committees, it’s time for Republicans to do the same, he said.

“This is raw politics,” he said. “You guys took a shot at someone on our team about statements I disagreed with. … We’ve got to respond.”

Buck said he would like to see McCarthy institute a rule change that would establish a process for the speaker to refer any committee removal request to the Ethics Committee. A lawmaker’s comportment would also have to meet a certain standard, including whether they have been charged with a crime or whether their action has harmed the reputation of the House.

“I don’t want to describe his guarantee,” Buck said about what a rule change would ultimately look like. “I am anticipating something much clearer and much transparent.”

Liz Goodwin contributed to this report.