Pelosi: Omar was unaware of ‘weight of her words’ in remarks on Israel

House Speaker says anti-hate resolution won’t mention the freshman Democrat whose claim of dual allegiance has sparked uproar, will condemn various forms of racism

Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat-Minnesota, sits with fellow Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee during a bill markup, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat-Minnesota, sits with fellow Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee during a bill markup, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday the House will vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate after an upheaval that split Democrats and clouded their agenda. But Pelosi said the measure won’t name Ilhan Omar, the freshman Democrat whose comments about Israel sparked the uproar.

Pelosi defended Omar and said she does not believe the new congresswoman understood the “weight of her words” or that they would be perceived by some as anti-Semitic when she suggested lawmakers who support Israel have dual allegiances.

“It’s not about her. It’s about these forms of hatred,” Pelosi told reporters.

The resolution was in part intended to resolve a divide that opened after Omar, Democrat-Minnesota, said that Israel’s supporters were pushing lawmakers to take a pledge of “allegiance” to a foreign country.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks prior to a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez at the US Capitol in Washington on February 13, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Several lawmakers expressed indignation, warning that Omar was peddling in age-old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews having dual allegiances.

A Muslim-American, Omar has been critical of the Jewish state in the past and apologized for those previous comments.

But she has not apologized for what many in Congress saw as a suggestion that Israel’s supporters have split loyalties. And that sparked a demand from some quarters to put a resolution on the floor condemning anti-Semitism.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., walks to a closed Democratic Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 4, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Pelosi’s comments came a day after the House Whip Democrat Rep. James Clyburn (South Carolina) said people should take into consideration Omar’s experiences as a refugee in Kenya, which he described as being “more personal” than those suffered by children of Holocaust survivors.

On Wednesday, Clyburn told The Hill that media reports don’t mention that Omar’s family was forced to flee their native Somalia due to civil war and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the United States.

According to the report, published Thursday, Clyburn suggested that Omar’s experience was “much more empirical — and powerful” than that of the descendants of Holocaust survivors.

“I’m serious about that,” he said. “There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her.”

“I’ve talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain,” he stressed.

The Anti-Defamation League on Thursday called on Clyburn to walk back his statements and apologize.

“The Holocaust was a singular tragedy resulting in the death of 6 million Jews,” the ADL tweeted. “It’s offensive to diminish the suffering of survivors and the continuing pain of Jews today. We respect Whip Clyburn’s long record of public service, but he should apologize and retract.”

Omar’s comment on Israel sparked enough outrage to split Democrats and throw their agenda into question. Some Democrats wanted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, while others wanted to broaden it to include a rejection of all forms of racism and bigotry.

Some proposed two separate resolutions. Others questioned whether a resolution was necessary, and viewed such a move as unfairly singling out Omar at a time when US President Donald Trump and others have made disparaging racial comments.

Early Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Democrats that the House would vote later in the day on the resolution.

That seemed to quiet some of the dissension, but there remained frustration that the party that touts its diversity conducted such a messy and public debate about how to declare its opposition to bigotry.

Rep. Ted Deutch, Democrat-Florida, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, at Capitol Hill in Washington, February 6, 2019. Jose Luis Magana/AP)

“This shouldn’t be so hard,” said Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch (Florida) on the House floor Thursday.

The abrupt turn of events came as Democratic leaders try to quickly fend off a challenge from Republicans on the issue.

Democratic leaders worried they could run into trouble on another bill, their signature ethics and voting reform package, if Republicans tried to tack their own anti-Semitism bill on as an amendment.

By voting Thursday, the House Democratic vote counters believe they could inoculate their lawmakers against such a move by passing Democrats’ own anti-hate bill.

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