Nancy Pelosi’s newest battle is not against Republicans, but against forces that are tearing apart the unity of Democrats in the House. And Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren are now involved as well. The three U.S. Senators all came to the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar for her remarks that critics have called anti-Semitic.
The freshman Minnesota Democrat seemed to suggest last week that U.S. supporters of Israel had “allegiance to a foreign country,”and this was considered an attack against Israel and Jews.
In response, House Democratic leaders had planned to pass a simple resolution that would condemn anti-Semitism without identifying her, and to hold a vote on the measure Wednesday.
But controversy erupted as Democrats were forced to postpone the House vote. Allies of Omar protested what they said was a rush by Speaker Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to rebuke the freshman Minnesota lawmaker unjustly.
This has turned into a highly emotional debate, while at the same time exposing deep divisions within the Democratic caucus in the House. Not only will there be no vote, but supporters of Omar now want an expanded resolution.
And the three presidential candidates have taken sides.
Speaking on behalf of Omar, Sen. Sanders said the U.S. should not “equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.”
“Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace,” Sanders wrote in a statement. “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”
Harris said all Americans have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all other forms of bigotry.
“But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk,” said Harris.
“We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country. I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism.”
But sharp divisions among Democrats in the House have not only delayed the vote, but also led to very public disagreements over the content of the proposed resolution. There is now great pressure from members on the left to increase the scope of the resolution to include Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination.
Pelosi said Wednesday she had “no idea” whether the House would take a vote on the resolution by the end of the week. She also rejected the idea that if the resolution becomes too broad, addressing demands by members that it address other forms of discrimination as well, it would lose its meaning.
“What’s too broad about fighting hatred wherever it exists?” Pelosi said.
The veteran Speaker has found out that in the new Congress there are many young members who do not want to do “business as usual.” Keeping her House Democratic caucus united in the coming months may be the biggest challenge she faces. But as she does battle against a unified Republican caucus that fully supports Donald Trump, keeping Democratic members of the House united may be the most important thing Nancy Pelosi does.