Why Ilhan Omar Might Survive Republican Purge of House Committees

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Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar from Minnesota could remain on the House Foreign Affairs Committee if enough Republicans oppose her removal.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy officially denied Democratic Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell seats on the House Intelligence Committee but he does not have the same power over appointments to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

That’s because the Intelligence Committee is a select committee where appointments are made by the speaker in consultation with the House minority leader—currently Representative Hakeem Jeffries from New York.

Ilhan Omar Speaks on Capitol Hill
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) listens to speakers during an event on Capitol Hill on July 20, 2022 in Washington, DC. Some Republicans have expressed opposition to removing Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

McCarthy has cited a “new standard” set by Democrats in 2021. The then Democratic majority removed Republican Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from committees following criticism of their comments and some social media posts.

McCarthy has the power to refuse to seat members on that committee but appointments to the Foreign Affairs Committee have to be approved by a vote of the House.

Omar has been criticized in the past for her comments about Israel, with some accusing her of antisemitism. In 2019, she apologized for tweets that both Republicans and Democrats had described as antisemitic.

Several Republicans have indicated that they could oppose McCarthy’s attempt to remove Omar from the committee and with a slim GOP majority in the House, there’s no guarantee he has the votes.

The GOP has 222 seats to Democrats’ 212 but McCarthy can only afford to lose four Republican votes if he wants a majority to remove Omar, since Republican Representative Greg Steube from Florida is unlikely to participate as he is currently recovering after falling 25 feet off a ladder.

“While I will be sidelined in Sarasota for several weeks, I will be carrying out as many of my congressional duties as possible,” Steube tweeted on Tuesday. “I’m eager to rejoin my colleagues in Washington as soon as possible!”

Republican Representative Victoria Spartz from Indiana said she would not support denying Omar a seat on the committee in a statement on Tuesday. She opposed removing Greene and Gosar in 2021.

“Two wrongs do not make a right. Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi took unprecedented actions last Congress to remove Reps. Greene and Gosar from their committees without proper due process. Speaker McCarthy is taking unprecedented actions this Congress to deny some committee assignments to the Minority without proper due process again,” Spartz said.

“As I spoke against it on the House floor two years ago, I will not support this charade again. Speaker McCarthy needs to stop ‘bread and circuses’ in Congress and start governing for a change,” she added.

Republican Representative Don Bacon told CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju on Tuesday that denying Democrats committee assignments was “terribly corrosive to the rapport, just the relations in the House.”

Bacon said he would need to read the language of a motion to remove Omar from the committee, while Republican Representative Nancy Mace from South Carolina also suggested she could oppose the move.

“I’m going to treat everybody equally,” she told CNN. “I want to be consistent on it.”

Mace also opposed removing Greene and Gosar from their committee assignments in 2021.

Republican Representative David Joyce from Ohio, who chairs the moderate Republican Governance Group, told Axios on Tuesday that Omar “should at least be given the opportunity to defend her prior statements” but said he hadn’t “taken a position on it because I haven’t seen a case against her, but I think she’s entitled to due process and she should be able to make her case on why she shouldn’t be [removed].”

It’s not yet clear when a vote on the issue will take place.

Newsweek has asked Kevin McCarthy and Ilhan Omar’s offices for comment.

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