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Dissent among Dems over response to Omar’s Israel remarks

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., walks through an underground tunnel at the Capitol as top House Democrats plan to offer a measure that condemns anti-Semitism in the wake of controversial remarks by the freshman congresswoman, in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., walks through an underground tunnel at the Capitol as top House Democrats plan to offer a measure that condemns anti-Semitism in the wake of controversial remarks by the freshman congresswoman, in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

A meeting of House Democrats turned contentious Wednesday as some new members who helped deliver the House majority confronted leaders over a resolution implicitly rebuking Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota over her comments on Israel.

In the party’s weekly closed meeting, Democrats protested the way Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leaders tried to rush out a resolution this week responding to Omar’s latest remark about Israel. Omar last week suggested the Jewish state’s supporters are pushing lawmakers to pledge “allegiance” to a foreign country.

The draft of the resolution condemning bigotry has angered Omar’s fellow freshmen and their progressive supporters. Pelosi had already said the measure would be broadened to decry anti-Muslim bias. But that didn’t quiet the ranks, and the party’s first major dissension broke out in an uncomfortable confrontation, according to three officials familiar with the episode.

Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut complained that Pelosi left Democrats out of the loop on the resolution’s details.

“My comments were about the process we are using when concerns arise,” Hayes said in a statement. “As a member of Congress I should not get important information from cable news.”

Two knowledgeable people said Hayes was engaged in conversation with a colleague when Pelosi asked Hayes a question. The congresswoman did not respond because she did not hear the speaker address her, these people say. Most lawmakers had left the room at the time.

A senior Democratic aide said Pelosi acknowledged the issues and said the resolution was not final. One person in the room quoted the speaker as saying the leaders had tried to increase communication so that members stay united and have “a clearer understanding of what our purpose is as a caucus, how we proceed.”

Some Democrats hugged Omar during the meeting, according to other officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The text of the resolution remains up in the air, as Democrats are still debating what it will say, whether it will name Omar and whether she will be permitted to keep her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

There was clear dissention among the Democrats on whether a resolution condemning anti-Semitism was even necessary, given that the House voted on a similar measure already.

“I’m not sure we need to continue to do this every single time,” said Rep. Primayla Jayapal, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The upheaval was a striking change from the heady first days of Democratic control, which installed Pelosi as speaker for the second time. Omar is among the most prominent freshman, as evidence by her appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone’s March issue with Pelosi, Hayes and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The resolution has created friction between Pelosi and all three of the women in the photo.

Omar, one of two Muslim women in Congress, has declined to comment, but a series of remarks about U.S.-Israel policy have forced the Democrats to respond. Pelosi, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and other Democrats condemned Omar’s remarks about divided loyalties. She did not apologize.

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