House Democrats were just about to bring a resolution to condemn bigotry and hate speech toward a range of communities to the House floor, when the vote was suddenly delayed.
The reason, apparently, was that the bill needed more hate to condemn: Democrats believed some groups, like Hispanic and LGBT people, were not adequately acknowledged.
It was the latest snarl in a mess of a process that began as an attempt to officially disapprove of a freshman member’s repeated use of anti-Semitic stereotypes, and morphed into an virtual omnibus of inclusion to paper over deep divisions caused, in part, by the crafting of the resolution in the first place.
“A lot of members are really pissed,” one Democratic member told The Daily Beast.
Despite the fact the resolution did not name Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and the references to her comments—which implied support for Israel meant “allegiance to a foreign country”—were bookended by condemnation of other examples of hate speech in the text of the resolution, remarks by members before the vote left little doubt who and what prompted the exercise.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on which Omar sits, said the congresswoman’s comments “touched a very real, very raw place.”
“My desire for the House to go on record again specifically condemning anti-Semitism wasn’t a desire to single the gentlewoman out or to stifle debate on U.S. policy toward Israel, but it was a desire and need to say that certain words, no matter who utters them, have no place in our public discourse and indeed can be very dangerous,” he said. “When a member of our body speaks the way it speaks—the way the representative from Minnesota spoke, we need to single it out and say, we will not tolerate it.”
Engel added that, while he would vote for the resolution, he thought that there should have been a stand-alone measure just addressing anti-Semitism.
“I am very disappointed that we weren’t able to have a separate resolution to specifically condemn anti-semitism and what our colleague said that really was a very hateful term,” he said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who has frequently tangled with Omar on Twitter, took a chance to call out the congresswoman by name. “We’re here because of anti-Semitic rhetoric from one member of this chamber,” he said. “I don’t believe she is naive... I believe she knows exactly what she is doing.”
As the vote sparked by her comments was gaveled closed, Omar huddled on the House floor with one of her staunchest defenders in a grueling week: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
The anti-hate resolution ultimately passed 407-23, with only Republicans voting no. The one “present” vote was the only other lawmaker whose comments were rebuked on the House floor this year: Rep. Steve King (R-IA).
On the surface, the vote tally was a show of unity among Democrats who wanted nothing more than to move on from this topic. But that unity was superficial and raw feelings that surfaced during the crafting of the resolution – which managed to anger nearly every faction of the Democratic conference – were unlikely to disappear with the swipe of a voting card.
Several House Democrats who have been critical of Omar basically shrugged when asked whether they believed Omar would not spark more of the same controversy going forward. “You’d have to ask her,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).
“I have no idea what’s in her heart,” Engel told reporters during the vote. “She knows where I stand.”
—With additional reporting by Sam Stein.