Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — House Democratic leaders hoped to end the first major internal fight of their new majority by going ahead with a vote Thursday on a resolution “opposing hate,” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying they needed to "remove all doubt" after comments made by freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Party leaders have struggled this week to negotiate a compromise over how to handle a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, initially crafted with the intent to soothe members offended by Omar, who faced a new wave of criticism for ostensibly perpetuating stereotypes against Jews.
A new 7-page text of the resolution was finalized early Thursday afternoon, ahead of an imminent floor debate just hours away, expanding its language beyond anti-Semitism to add condemnation of anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities as hateful expressions of intolerance contrary to values and aspirations of the United States.
The measure, which does not name Omar, also adds language to acknowledge "the harm suffered by Muslims and others from the harassment, discrimination, and violence that result from anti-Muslim bigotry," and condemning the death threats received by Jewish and Muslim Members of Congress, "including in recent weeks."
In a "Dear Colleague" letter, Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Cedric Richmond, D-La., explained that the resolution condemns anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry "as forms of racism and prejudice antithetical to the values and aspirations of the American people."
"We hope that you will join us in strongly supporting this Resolution and speaking publicly on behalf of the values it asserts," the duo wrote.
At a news conference at the Capitol Thursday morning, Pelosi somewhat excused Omar’s recent rhetoric, explaining that the 37-year-old freshman Democrat may not have appreciated “the full weight of how it was heard by other people.”
“I don’t believe it was intended in an anti-Semitic way,” Pelosi, D-Calif., stressed. “But the fact is, if that’s how it was interpreted, we have to remove all doubt as we have done over and over again.”
Pelosi said Democrats would craft a resolution to bring to the floor “that will again speak out against anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy and all the forms that it takes – that our country has no place for this.”
Pelosi explained that “it was important” to her to speak to Omar, who was traveling on a congressional delegation to Ethiopia and Eritrea, before deciding how to proceed as a caucus.
“I thought the resolution should enlarge the issue to anti-Semitism, anti-islamophobia, etcetera – anti-white supremacist – and that it should not mention her name,” Pelosi said. “And that’s what we’re working on — something that is one resolution addressing these forms of hatred, not mentioning her name. Because it’s not about her. It’s about these forms of hatred.”
Nevertheless, Pelosi said Omar “may need to explain” the intent behind her remarks.
“It’s up to her to explain but I don’t think she understood the full weight of the words,” Pelosi emphasized. “I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude but that she didn’t have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people, where these words have a history and cultural impact that may have been unknown to her.”
Omar, from Minnesota, made history as one of the two first Muslim women elected to Congress, refused to answer a series of open-ended questions on the controversy when ABC News caught up with her inside the Capitol on Wednesday morning.
In a week in which House Democrats are celebrating their new power by voting on sweeping anti-corruption legislation, the controversy created a distraction that tested the patience of leadership — and even spilled into the early field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
A senior Democratic leadership aide said that Majority Whip James Clyburn implored the caucus to vote Thursday in order to “inoculate” Democrats from a procedural vote on H.R. 1, where Republicans could have forced a vote on their own version of a resolution, which specifically called out Omar while condemning anti-Semitism.
A second Democratic aide agreed the call to vote Thursday was made "to get people back to focusing on HR 1," but added that some senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus "were a little taken aback by the timing since rank and file haven’t actually seen the resolution yet."
Pelosi denied the assertion that Republicans forced Democrats into scheduling a vote, insisting "this has nothing to do with it."
Although Democratic leaders had circulated vanilla text earlier this week to their members recapping the history of anti-Semitism and concluding that Congress rejects it — and even though the draft resolution did not directly name Omar — in a political environment deeply mired by political incorrectness, some Democrats felt it was inappropriate to single out Omar even indirectly, fighting to amend the text to add language that rejects Islamophobia and racism as well.
With a vote now anticipated on a broadened resolution condemning the full spectrum of hate, the caucus appears ready to move past the unsavory debacle.
A vote initially had been anticipated on a four-page resolution narrowly rejecting anti-Semitism as early as Wednesday but was delayed after House Democratic leaders reopened the text of the resolution on Tuesday evening to appease members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus who threatened to derail the vote.
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