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McCarthy faces headwinds in fulfilling promise to oust Omar from foreign affairs committee

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made good on promises to oust two California Democrats from an intelligence committee but would need a full vote of the U.S. House to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, right, with Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, during a news conference on Wednesday denouncing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's actions to oust Democrats from committees.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, right, with Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, during a news conference on Wednesday denouncing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's actions to oust Democrats from committees.
REUTERS/Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON – While Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made it a priority to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee over her past statements on Israel, doing so might be harder than he thought.

McCarthy wants to hold a vote in the U.S. House on Omar’s removal next week but has declined to say whether he has the votes in a narrowly divided chamber.

Two moderate GOP House members – Reps. Victoria Spartz, R-Indiana, and Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina – have already said they will not vote to eject Omar, D-5th District.  Meanwhile House Democrats are working to keep their caucus behind Omar, a progressive member of the “Squad” who has angered some Jewish lawmakers by suggesting nearly four years ago that pro-Israel advocates had “allegiance” to Israel. 

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District, the first Jewish Minnesotan elected to the U.S. House, has “had some conversations and some calls” with fellow Jewish House Democrats to lobby on Omar’s behalf.

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“I think it’s fair to say that many here had concerns about language she has used that has been offensive,” Phillips said Wednesday. “But she’s apologized.”

Phillips said he has disagreed with Omar on “a number of policy issues,” including Israel, but believes the Foreign Affairs Committee members should represent a variety of positions to be able to have healthy debates over foreign policy. 

House Democrats are also reaching out to other moderate Republicans, including Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

Phillips said “a significant number of Republicans” have concerns about voting on a resolution that would remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“My belief is that it won’t come to the floor because the votes aren’t there,” Phillips said.

With one GOP lawmaker recovering from a fall from a ladder, McCarthy can only lose three votes if he wants the resolution sanctioning Omar to pass. 

McCarthy on Wednesday kept his promise to remove Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both Californians, from seats on the House Intelligence Committee. McCarthy has accused Schiff of lying about former President Trump’s ties to Russia and says Swalwell is a “security risk” because of his association with a suspected Chinese spy who raised money for his campaign nearly a decade ago.

McCarthy could punish the California Democrats because the intelligence panel is a “select” committee whose members are chosen by leadership.

But a vote of the full U.S. House is needed to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee, a “standing” committee with authority to produce legislation. 

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During a press conference on Wednesday with Schiff and Swalwell, Omar said McCarthy’s moves are “not only a political stunt, but a blow to the integrity of our democratic institution and national security.”

McCarthy said he wants to oust Omar because nearly four years ago she suggested that pro-Israel advocates had “allegiance” to Israel. He said Omar’s “anti-Israel” position precluded her from being on a panel with jurisdiction over U.S. foreign policy.

But McCarthy has also said he wanted to oust Democrats from panels because former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, successfully stripped Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, of their committee jobs. 

Greene caused an uproar for her support of online comments encouraging violence against Democratic officials. Gosar was sanctioned by Pelosi for posting a violent animated video on his social media that showed him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and attacking President Biden.

Omar said McCarthy’s actions were simply retaliations for the removal of Greene and Gosar from committees in the last Congress.  

“It’s about revenge,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mace, the South Carolina Republican, said McCarthy had the authority to oust Schiff and Swalwell, “but Omar’s situation is different.”

She said Republicans who were outraged when Pelosi ousted Greene and Gosar but are now demanding the removal of Omar from a committee “are not consistent.”

Mace also said “a handful” of Republicans share her concerns. 

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Omar lauded the “courageous Republicans,” like Mace, who have objected to McCarthy’s effort. A refugee of Somalia’s civil war, Omar would be the top Democrat on a Foreign Affairs subcommittee with jurisdiction over Africa and global health and human rights.

In her defense, some Democrats say Omar’s background makes her a perfect fit for a panel that works on foreign policy. 

“She has lived through the devastating impacts of war,” Democratic Sen. Tina Smith tweeted Wednesday. “Her experience is important, her voice is powerful and she’s a valued member of Congress. The disrespect of McCarthy and his extremist supporters for Rep. Omar is obvious and shameful.”

The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee is meeting this week to work on committee assignments. Omar, who had a seat on the House Education and Labor Committee as well as a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee has asked for an additional assignment – on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

That would not be a bad fallback position if she does lose her job on the Foreign Affairs Committee.