WASHINGTON – As her colleagues gathered on the House floor Thursday to decide her fate, Ilhan Omar could have offered one more apology. Instead, the Minnesota Democrat spoke to what she saw as a larger injustice: the silencing of a Black Muslim woman. Herself.
The Republican-controlled House voted along party lines to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee over comments she has made about Israel that members of both parties viewed as antisemitic.
"Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy? Or that they see me as a powerful voice that needs to be silenced?" Omar said on the House floor moments before the 218-211 vote. "Frankly, It is expected. Because when you push power, power pushes back."
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'I am an American'
"I am an American," Omar, who had been on Foreign Affairs since she arrived on Capitol Hill in 2019, said in her floor speech.
"An American who was sent here by her constituents to represent them in Congress," she said. "A refugee who survived the horrors of a civil war. Someone who spent her childhood in a refugee camp. Someone who knows what it means to have a shot at a better life here in the United States. And someone who believes in the American dream and the American possibility and the promise and the ability to participate in the democratic process."
Even in a chamber that has grown increasingly partisan, the debate leading up to the vote on Omar felt visceral. Republicans accused her of being antisemitic and anti-American – undeserving of a seat on the House committee that helps shape foreign policy. Democrats accused Republicans of a racist double standard for not sounding such outrage when GOP officials make similarly offensive comments
Omar, who was born in Somalia before fleeing at age 8 during its civil war, said her removal from the Foreign Affairs panel would not muzzle her.
"I will continue to speak up, because representation matters," she said. "I will continue to speak up for families around the world who are seeking justice whether they are displaced in refugee camps or they are hiding under their beds somewhere like I was waiting for the bullets to stop."
McCarthy vowed for months to remove Omar
Omar faced backlash from members of both parties for controversial statements she made in 2019 and 2021. Republicans had threatened to punish her but were unable to do so in a chamber run by Democrats.
Omar suggested in the 2019 remark that Israel demands "allegiance" from American lawmakers, adding that "a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, (think) that everything we say about Israel (is) anti-Semitic because we are Muslim." Her comments in 2021 equating Israel and the U.S. with the terrorist group Hamas and the Taliban provoked anger from some of her own Democratic colleagues.
Critics condemned Omar's comments prompting her to apologize.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement that "the charge of dual loyalty not only raises the ominous specter of classic anti-Semitism, but it is also deeply insulting to the millions upon millions of patriotic Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, who stand by our democratic ally, Israel."
GOP lawmakers were outraged further when Democrats voted in 2021 to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for menacing social media posts. But it wasn't until Republicans recaptured the House in last fall's election that they were able to act against Omar.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy vowed last year, before the 2022 midterm elections, to remove Omar as well as block California Democrats Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from their Intelligence Committee posts.
Swalwell on House committee assignments: Speaker McCarthy engaged in 'weaponizing' of 'political abuse'
But unlike Schiff and Swalwell, Omar has been the target of a variety of racist and Islamophobic attacks since her election to the House in 2018, including by then- President Donald Trump, who encouraged supporters to chant "send her back" during a 2019 rally.
What others said about Omar being ousted from the Foreign Affairs Committee
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the Council on American-Islamic Relations national deputy director, blames Omar's treatment on an overarching hostility toward pro-Palestinian positions: "There is a longstanding and deep-seated issue of bigotry that has been directed at her, and this is just the latest manifestation of it."
Tennessee GOP Rep. David Kustoff on the floor of the House: "No doubt, words have meaning. When a member of Congress stands in this chamber, or at home, or in their district, the nation and the world pays attention to what they say and how they say it."
Tabitha Bonilla, an associate professor of policy research at Northwestern University: "I think there are important consequences to her ability to represent her constituents. This is silencing her voice in her committee work and I think particularly having a Somali refugee on a foreign affairs committee is important because she's bringing to the table a perspective that other people are not going to be bringing."
The Republican Jewish Coalition applauded the removal of Omar, saying in a statement that the Democratic leadership failed to hold her "accountable for her vile, hateful, and dangerous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric."
Contributing Rachel Looker
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rep. Ilhan Omar gives fiery speech before ousted from Foreign Affairs