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D.C. Memo: Omar death threats; Trump’s hand in Emmer’s fall; Ukrainian day of action

Plus: A reader asks why Minnesota Democrats didn’t come to Congressman Tom Emmer’s aid in his failed bid to become House speaker.

Rep. Ilhan Omar speaking at an Oct. 10 press conference announcing a House resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Rep. Ilhan Omar speaking at an Oct. 10 press conference announcing a House resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Photo by Allison Bailey/NurPhoto

WASHINGTON — Having finally elected a Speaker of the House, the chamber broke nearly three weeks of paralysis, canceled an upcoming week’s recess and began to try to catch up for lost time.

The first thing the U.S. House voted on after electing Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson as speaker was a resolution condemning Hamas’ attacks on Israel earlier this month. The measure was approved on a 412-10 vote, with Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, among the lawmakers to vote “no.”

“I cannot support a resolution that fails to acknowledge and mourn the lives of Palestinians taken by the Israeli military,” Omar said in a statement. “The resolution also fails to acknowledge the Israeli government’s military bombardment of Gaza, especially after Israeli officials openly admitted to implementing collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza.”

Omar, whose family fled Somalia’s civil war to emigrate to the United States, has condemned the Hamas attack. But she and fellow Muslim Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, have come under attack by fellow GOP lawmakers for their past criticisms of Israel and support of human rights for Palestinians.

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Recently, Omar has received a steady barrage of death threats from callers to her office, who lash out at office staff and leave threatening and often obscene messages on her office voicemail system.

MinnPost listened to several of the most recent messages left for Omar and her staff. They were laced with profanity, one used the “N” word, and in another the caller boasted of having an arsenal of weapons. 

It has directly endangered my life and subjected my staff to traumatic verbal abuse simply for doing their jobs,” Omar said of the calls. “More importantly it threatens the millions of American Muslims and other communities who share their identities.”

Omar cited the tragic death of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American child, who was stabbed to death 26 times.

“On the flip side we’ve also seen a rise in antisemitic attacks towards Jewish people. This is everything that I stand against,” she said.

Omar attended a security briefing last week organized by Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries that also included Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, Jamaal Bowman, D-New York, Cori Bush, D-Missouri, and other “Squad” members. But it’s unclear how much extra protection the Capitol Police are giving lawmakers who are receiving threats. 

A source in Omar’s office said most of the calls, about 80%, come from outside the state and most are left on the office’s voicemail system in the evening.

“But we get a steady stream of them throughout the day,” the source said. 

Did Trump really sink Emmer?

Former President Trump took credit for Rep. Tom Emmer’s defeat this week in his bid to become House speaker.

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“He’s done. It’s over. I killed him,” Trump reportedly bragged to an ally right before Emmer dropped out of the race on Wednesday afternoon.

Trump had called Emmer a RINO, a Republican In Name Only, questioned the lawmaker’s loyalty to him and phoned House Republicans warning them to vote against Emmer’s candidacy.

But his impact on the speaker’s race may not have been as great as Trump proposed it to be. Trump’s choice for speaker, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, also failed to win enough support to win the job.

Emmer’s problem was likely caused by the discord and animosity Jordan’s defeat engendered. Most of the two dozen lawmakers who said they would not vote for Emmer as speaker were strong Jordan supporters, and they made their position known before Trump began his public assault on Emmer’s candidacy.

Reps. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, Brad Finstad, R-1st District, and other lawmakers asked about Trump’s impact on Emmer’s bid said they did not think the former president was a factor. But Trump’s opposition likely did not help.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer
REUTERS/Nathan Howard
Just hours after he became the Republican House Speaker nominee, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer has dropped out of the speaker’s race.
After Emmer’s defeat, the GOP conference turned to the 5th person in the GOP leadership ranks, Johnson, who was vice chairman of the House Republican Conference. Emmer holds the No. 3 job as majority whip.

While Trump supported Johnson’s candidacy, sheer exhaustion and the need to choose a speaker after three weeks of paralysis in the U.S. House that followed the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy may have played a bigger role.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District, said Emmer’s defeat was “a message to GOP moderates” that they would never be able to get a speaker candidate of their choosing. Those moderates, and all Republican members of the U.S. House, voted for Johnson.

Unlike Emmer, R-6th District, who voted to certify the results of the 2020 election, Johnson was among the architects of a legal challenge to the election. He also built his career in large part by denouncing gay people and fighting against gay rights, citing his Chrisitan faith for his position.

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With Johnson vacating the position of vice chair of the Republican Conference, Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-7th District, asked colleagues on Thursday to support her bid for the job.

In her letter to colleagues, Fischbach detailed her career in politics, which included a time as lieutenant governor.

“We need a mature leader and a strong conservative voice in this role,” Fischbach wrote. “I believe I am the right woman for the job.”

But Fischbach has plenty of competition. Reps. Nicole Malliotakis, R-New York, Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma, Beth VanDuyne, R-Texas and Mark Alford, R-Missouri, are also running for that No. 5 spot.

Local Ukrainian activists visit D.C. to lobby for aid

It was not only reporters who stood around for hours outside a room in the Longworth House Office Building this week where Republicans had gathered to try to find a candidate with enough support to become speaker.

There were scores of activists seeking additional U.S. military and humanitarian support for Ukraine trying to get a grasp at what was going on behind closed doors. Those activists were hoping Emmer — who has received an “A” grade for an “excellent” voting record by Defending Democracy Together for his support of Ukraine — would become the next Speaker of the House.

They were dismayed that Johnson, who received an “F” grade, was ultimately the choice.

“It is a concern,” said Maria Doan, a member of the Minnesota Ukrainian American Advocacy Committee.

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But she also said “even if Emmer had been selected as speaker, we don’t really know if he would have continued to support Ukraine.”

The problem is that, although the U.S. Senate is supportive of President Biden’s $24 billion request for new aid to Ukraine — now included in a package that would also help Israel and Taiwan — many GOP members of the U.S. House are adamant that only Israel should receive U.S. aid.

Members of the Minnesota Ukrainian American Advocacy Committee in the Longworth House Office Building seeking additional U.S. military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
Ukraine Action Summit
Members of the Minnesota Ukrainian American Advocacy Committee in the Longworth House Office Building seeking additional U.S. military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
Doan and two other activists from the Twin Cities were here for the Ukrainian Action Summit, and they visited the offices of several members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation. But they did not visit the offices of Reps. Brad Finstad, R-1st District, Michelle Fischbach, R-7th District, or Pete Stauber, R-8th District, who all received an “F” grade on the Ukrainian report card.

“We are going to try to establish better relationships with those offices,” Doan said.

Your questions and comments

One reader had a question many people had: Why wouldn’t Democrats offer to help the Republican members out of the speaker’s mess?

“Ana, do you think if Emmer is nominated to be speaker, his fellow Minnesota representatives who are Democrats would vote for him?” the reader asked.

The answer is a little difficult. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District, who is expected to announce a primary challenge to President Biden in New Hampshire on Friday, offered to withhold his vote, if the Minnesota Republican agreed to certain things. Missing the vote would lower the threshold (which was more than 50% of the lawmakers voting) that Emmer would need to meet to become speaker. 

If enough Democrats did what Phillips offered to do, Emmer might have had a chance to overcome his opposition. But that would mean a lot of Democrats would have had to agree to help, which was unlikely. Also, Republicans have steadily rejected any Democratic help, which was offered to give more powers to the acting speaker Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, so the House could pass legislation.

So, the offer of Democratic help became kind of a “kiss of death” for any proposal.  

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