Washington, D.C. – When Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy mentioned the name of a Muslim American congressman Ilhan Omar at a conference of the Republican Jewish Coalition over the weekend, boos erupted from the crowd.

“That’s a valid boo,” the congresswoman replied, before pledging to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee over her criticism of Israel.

The top Republican’s pledge has sparked protests from progressive and Muslim-American advocates who say the attack on Omar was unwarranted. Some also warned it may be the tip of the iceberg in a campaign that House Republicans are preparing against Democrats when they take control of the Congress Chamber in January.

“Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress should come together to denounce this cynical political attack on Rep. Omar,” Robert McCaw, director of government affairs at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement.

“Members of Congress should not be silenced for daring to speak out consistently human rights violationswhether perpetrated by our country’s opponents, allies or even our own government,” McCaw said Monday.

After the Republicans won a narrow majority in the House in this month’s midterm elections, McCarthy is likely to become the speaker of the House in the new Congress, which meets on January 3, 2023.

But even before stepping into the majority, top House Republicans said they would not oversee the business dealings of President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden — a matter that the Democrats say is baseless.

McCarthy also told Fox News on Sunday that he would prevent Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee.


But McCarthy’s attack on Omar, which followed years of relentless Republican criticism of the congresswoman, was particularly outspoken.

“Last year, when I became chairman, I promised to remove Representative Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee based on her repeated anti-Semitic and anti-American remarks,” he wrote on Twitter Saturday. “I keep that promise.”

McCaw at CAIR described McCarthy’s pledge as “beyond hypocritical”, noting that he had said he would reinstate congressman’s committee assignments Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene was kicked off congressional panels last year for anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

In a blistering statement Monday, Omar McCarthy rebuked and accused Republicans of using “fear, xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism” to attack her since she was elected in 2018.

“McCarthy’s attempts to repeatedly berate me for contempt and hate — including the threat of removing me from my committee — does not lessen the problems our constituents face. It does nothing to address inflationhealth care or solving the climate crisis,” she said.

Omar is one of three Muslims serving in Congress and one of the few advocates for Palestinian rights on Capitol Hill.

A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which helps advance legislation and oversees members of the U.S. executive branch, she was also a rare voice calling for diplomacy and against hawkish policies.

Omar has previously been accused of using anti-Semitic tropes after she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), encourage support for Israel in Washington.

She later apologized for that remark, but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Omar and others for their criticism of Israel aim to stifle debate over Israeli government policies.

Progressives defend Omar

This week, several prominent progressives rushed to Omar’s defense after McCarthy’s comments.

Congressman Cori Bush urged McCarthy to “do better” and expressed her support for Omar. “Islamophobia, racism, religious discrimination and hatred have no place in the Volkshuis or our society,” she wrote on Twitter.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, President of the Congressional Progressive Caucusdescribed Omar as a “committed” legislator and accused Republicans of weaponizing “xenophobia and racism to undermine her vote”.

Many also rejected attempts to draw an equivalence between Omar and Greene or Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican who was formally reprimanded last year for sharing an animated video depicting him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“There has been such a coordinated effort to convince you that progressive black and brown women in office – who serve and lead from lived experience – are the democratic equivalent of white supremacist right-wingers who persecute, marginalize and incite the rest of us to violence. Stop it,’ congressman-elect Summer Lee wrote on Twitter Monday.

McCarthy, who as minority leader rejected Democratic advances against Greene and Gosar, had vowed revenge last year if Republicans regained control of the House.

‘You will regret this. And you might regret this sooner than you think,” he said after Democrats removed Greene from her committee duties.

Aside from the Omar issue, many critics have criticized the priorities set by Republicans for the next Congress, particularly the investigation into the Biden administration.

But Republicans say they will fulfill one of Congress’s duties of overseeing the government.

Republicans also say their Democratic rivals launched several investigations into former President Donald Trump when he was in office — including beyond reports of conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, which they dismiss as a “hoax”.

McCarthy said Sunday he would push for Schiff to be removed from the intelligence committee, which the Democrat currently chairs, for lying to the American public, without providing details.

Schiff fired back, calling McCarthy a “very weak leader” who focused on “the lowest common denominator” in his caucus. “I suspect he’ll do what Marjorie Taylor Greene wants him to do,” Schiff told ABC News.

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