Kevin McCarthy won’t let go of the GOP’s smear campaign against Ilhan Omar, but Democrats have moved on

kevin mccarthy ilhan omar
Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Ilhan Omar.

  • Kevin McCarthy is perpetuating the GOP’s smear campaign against Ilhan Omar.
  • McCarthy is urging Pelosi to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • Pelosi has already signaled Democrats want to move on from recent misleading criticism of Omar.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is calling for Rep. Ilhan Omar’s removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee as Republicans continue to misconstrue recent comments she made on war crimes investigations, while Democrats largely appear to have moved on.

McCarthy urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strip Omar from the committee based on what he described as “anti-Semitic” and “anti-American” language from the Minnesota lawmaker.

“I will promise you this. If we are fortunate enough to have the majority, Omar would not be serving on Foreign Affairs or anybody that has an anti-Semitic, anti-American view. That is not productive, and that is not right,” McCarthy said during a “Fox & Friends” appearance on Tuesday.

The comments mark the GOP’s latest efforts to attack Omar, who last week criticized both Democrats and Republicans for taking her words about the US’s opposition to investigate potential war crimes out of context.

During a June 7 congressional hearing, Omar questioned Secretary of State Antony Blinken on accountability and justice for victims of crimes against humanity. She referenced two open International Criminal Court cases into potential war crimes – one involving the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan and another involving Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Neither the US nor Israel recognize the authority of the ICC, which can try individuals for war crimes.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle then accused Omar of “equating” the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban, pressuring Omar to clarify her statements. Pushing back against the criticism, she underscored that she was explicitly referencing open ICC investigations.

“The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive,” Omar tweeted in response to a statement from 12 fellow House Democrats that condemned her recent remarks. “The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”

“Citing an open case against Israel, US, Hamas & Taliban in the ICC isn’t comparison or from ‘deeply seated prejudice,'” Omar continued. “You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims but history has thought us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever.”

The Democratic leadership in a statement last week erroneously suggested Omar drew “false equivalencies” between democracies like the US and Israel and terrorist groups, while welcoming the “clarification” issued by the Minnesota Democrat.

In a separate statement, Omar said she was “in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”

“To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel,” Omar said.

Several Democrats came to Omar’s defense, citing a history of Congress members making Islamophobic and racist remarks toward her, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

“I am tired of colleagues (both D+R) demonizing @IlhanMN. Their obsession with policing her is sick. She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted. “That’s better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics.”

Pelosi: ‘End of subject’

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Rep. Ilhan Omar talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi in a CNN interview on Sunday made it clear that the Democratic leadership wanted to put the matter to bed and move on.

“She clarified, we thanked her, end of subject,” Pelosi said.

The top Democrat said Omar was a “valued member” of the caucus, and rejected the notion that the Democratic leadership had rebuked the Minnesota lawmaker over her statements.

“We did not rebuke her. We acknowledged that she made a clarification,” Pelosi said. “She asked her questions of the Secretary of State. Nobody criticized those, about how people will be held accountable if we’re not going to the International Court of Justice. That was a very legitimate question. That was not of concern.”

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York also appeared on CNN on Sunday and said Omar’s comments were “absolutely mischaracterized” by Republicans and warned about the consequences of Democrats joining in and legitimizing their bad faith attacks.

“When we feed into that, it adds legitimacy to a lot of this kind of right-wing vitriol. It absolutely increases that target,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And as someone who has experienced that, it’s very difficult to communicate the scale and how dangerous that is.”

“As Speaker Pelosi said, we are putting this behind us and I believe that we will ultimately come together as a caucus,” she went on to say.

Republicans have engaged in a prolonged smear campaign against Omar

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Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

The recent attacks on Omar are part of a broader trend or smear campaign primarily perpetuated by Republicans and their allies in the right-wing media.

Republicans have consistently accused Omar of anti-Semitism and employed Islamophobic rhetoric against her, suggesting that she’s a terrorist sympathizer. Democrats and prominent groups in Washington have also joined the pile-on at times, taking her words out of context in the process.

In 2019, Omar sent tweets that led to widespread allegations of anti-Semitism, and she promptly apologized. The tweets suggested politicians in Congress had been bought off by influential groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which critics said echoed anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.

Since that controversy, Omar has been vocal in condemning anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish people while also calling for a more balanced approach to addressing potential human rights abuses by the US and its allies, including Israel.

Meanwhile, Republicans have baselessly accused Omar of anti-Semitism over her criticism of the Israeli government. The Minnesota lawmaker’s rhetoric on Israel, including referring to it as an apartheid state, has been in line with conclusions and statements of leading human rights groups.

Omar is one of the first two Muslim women in Congress in US history, and her defenders in Congress say it’s not a coincidence she’s been the target of a coordinated smear campaign by Republicans.

In a statement offering support to Omar last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus said, “We cannot ignore that a right-wing media echo chamber that has deliberately and routinely attacked a Black, Muslim woman in Congress, distorting her views and intentions, and resulting in threats against Rep. Omar and her staff.”

“We urge our colleagues not to abet or amplify such divisive and bad-faith attacks,” the statement added.

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