Nel's New Day

February 2, 2023

The 118th Congress: ‘Political Infighting, Political Retaliation’

Today 218 House Republicans voted to remove Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the Foreign Affairs Committee, and two Republicans were overheard in an elevator criticizing the vote although they were part of it. Ken Buck (CO) called it the “stupidest vote in the world,” and Mike Simpson (ID) agreed, adding that it would make Omar a “martyr.” They also agreed that the vote was revenge for Democrats removing Republicans from committees but asked others in the elevator not to tell leadership their thoughts.

Democrats previously removed Paul Gosar (R-AZ) for his threats of violence against Democrats including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and President Joe Biden along with Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) for her racism, anti-Semitism, threats of violence, and conspiracy theories. While in office, she spoke at white supremacists’ conferences. Senate GOP White John Thune (SD) said that Omar’s removal was “turnabout” for the Democrats removing GOP lawmakers from their committees.

After McCarthy promised to strip Omar of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a coalition of primarily Jewish American and pro-Israel organizations condemned his threat “based on false accusations that she is antisemitic or anti-Israel.” The statement also called McCarthy’s claims hypocritical because he and some of his own deputies have spread anti-Semitic tropes. They cited McCarthy’s tweet “charging that George Soros and two other billionaires of Jewish descent were seeking to ‘buy’ an election.”

McCarthy’s newly-elected Whip Tom Emmer said the Jewish billionaires had “essentially bought control of Congress, and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik promoted the anti-Semitic “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), highly influential with McCarthy, said that the California wildfires were started by “Jewish space lasers” and posted approval of violence against Democratic leaders on social media. She uses her seat on the Oversight Committee to spread more lies

About criticism from the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Tom Massie (KY) wrote, “How is this not foreign interference in our elections,” referring to anti-Semitic dual-loyalty. Republicans also defended the virulently anti-Semitic Kanye West.

Omar brought a new perspective to the other 49 members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, according to Peter Beinart, a journalism and poli-sci professor at the City University of New York:

“In a hearing in May 2021, about Chinese atrocities against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, only Ms. Omar noted that the United States had itself imprisoned 22 Uyghurs at Guantánamo Bay and that China’s president had reportedly cited America’s ‘war on terror’ as a justification for his own crackdown.”

The 218-211 vote were along party lines. One GOP member, Dave Joyce (OH) who voted “present” instead of against Omar. “She was elected,” the excuse Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) uses to keep lying Rep. George Santos (R-NY) for his vote, doesn’t count for Democrats. McCarthy earlier removed California Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the Intelligence Committee, accusing Schiff of lying, but that excuse is only for Democrats.

Three GOP representatives—Ken Buck (CO), Nancy Mace (SC), and Victoria Spartz (IN)—had said they would not support Omar’s removal, but McCarthy bought their votes with pledges that he would fix rules for removing members from committees. His promised language in the resolution carries no weight, however, because they are in the “whereas” section and not the “resolved” section.

When she was first in the House four years ago, Omar made a few comments about the Israeli apartheid with the Palestinians, Jewish people “buying political support” in AIPA, and allegiance to a foreign company. Even Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) had called Israel “your country” when talking to an audience of Jewish people. After the Democratic leadership condemned Omar’s comments, she apologized

“Anti-Semitism is real, and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

Criticizing the GOP vote, Ocasio-Cortez referred to McCarthy appointing Gosar:

“I had a member of the Republican caucus threaten my life and you all, and the Republican caucus rewarded him with one of the most prestigious committee assignments in this congress… This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America.”

McCarthy had been highly critical of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for allowing votes after the time expired and set rules to stop it. Despite Democrats chanting “order” and “close it,” the new speaker permitted votes after the time expiration to get enough votes to keep Omar off the committee. 

Omar is a Black Muslim woman frequently attacked by DDT, the right-wing media, and GOP lawmakers who assailed her ethnicity, religion, and history as a Somalian refugee. In a 2019 rally, DDT led the chant, “Send her back.” Omar said,

“Who gets to be an American? What opinions do you have to have to be counted as American?”

Surprisingly, far-right, DDT-supporter Matt Gaetz (FL) defended Omar and said that Republicans want to punish her “because they don’t like what she has to say.” He still voted to take her off the committee because he didn’t like her “viewpoint.”

McCarthy also removed California Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the Intelligence Committee but said Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (NY) may put anyone he wishes on the new House “weaponization” committee. The strong Democratic slate includes Del. Stacey Plaskett, representative of the Virgin Islands and part of the 2021 impeachment team, along with three members of the Oversight Committee—Stephen Lynch (MA), Gerry Connolly (VA), and Dan Goldman (NY), elected to Congress after he served as Democratic counsel during DDT’s first impeachment. Other members are Linda Sánchez (CA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), John Garamendi (CA), Colin Allred (TX) and Sylvia Garcia (TX). Ranking member of the Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler (NY), will lead the Democrat on the new subcommittee.

Jeffries selected Jim Hines (CN) as top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee and Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL) as Democratic leader on the new select subcommittee on strategic competition between the United States and China. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) will be the party’s top official on a Covid subcommittee.

The chaotic 118th Congress has a nickname, the Seinfeld Congress because it’s a show about nothing. After four long days in selecting a speaker, the House has focused on establishing new select committees designed to grind GOP axes and eliminating Democrats from committees. On Groundhog Day, the Judiciary Committee, run by Jim Jordan (OH), devolved into an hourlong debate about saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Gaetz’s amendment allows members to invite “inspirational constituents” to lead the pledge before each committee meeting. He objected, however, to David Cicilline’s (RI) amendment on the amendment to prevent “insurrectionists” from leading the pledge. During the ensuing shouts, the House GOP’s official Twitter account tweeted out the outdated 1892 version of the Pledge of Allegiance, which was written by New York socialist Francis Bellamy, without the reference to God added during the Cold War in 1954:  

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the committee’s ranking member, pointed out that representatives already said the pledge on the House floor every day. He said:

“I don’t know why we should pledge allegiance twice in the same day to show how patriotic we are.”

A long discussion about saying the pledge led to unanimous acceptance of the amendment.

In the Covid subcommittee hearing about fraud in Covid spending, Ocasio-Cortez asked why research in spending was in only three blue states—New York, California, and Pennsylvania. She asked Gene L. Dodaro, comptroller general for the Government Accountability Office, about this “methodology” and how he would carry out the investigation. He explained a sample of “18 states” would be a good approach. Ocasio-Cortez said she plans to “dig into this report” and cited Arizona’s expenditures of “$1.6 billion to individuals to stolen identities to get unemployment insurance benefits” as well as fraud in Lousiana and Kentucky, home of the committee chair James Comer (R-KY). The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee didn’t investigate any of these states.

GOP members of the Covid subcommittee include anti-vaxers Greene, Debbie Lesko (AZ), Ronny Jackson (TX), Rich McCormick (GA), and Michael Cloud (TX). Other members—Brad Wenstrup (OH), John Joyce (PA), Marianette Miller-Meeks (IA), and Nicole Malliotakis (NY) received generous donations from pharmaceutical companies.

On the Senate side, the minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pulled Rick Scott (FL) off the Commerce Committee after Scott tried to beat McConnell out as leader and Mike Lee (R-UT) who supported Scott. McConnell said he didn’t take the challenge personally, but Scott accused him of retaliation after he got a text about the decision. Scott asked who decided to move him and was told that McConnell was solely responsible. Ron Johnson (WI) moved to the Finance Committee from Commerce. The loss of committee seats came from the election of an additional Democrat to the Senate in the 2022 midterms.

At least three House Republicans—George Santos (NY), Anna Paulina Luna (FL), and Andrew (R-GA)—wore pins shaped like assault weapons during National Gun Violence Survivors Week. Luna also opposed Democrats’ attempt to ban firearms inside the Natural Resources panel hearing room. Last week, Cory Mills (FL) distributed grenades to fellow members with a note stating they were “inert.” 

Michael Steele talked about the “boogeyman politics.” As he said, the U.S. doesn’t have socialism, as Republicans want to eradicate, but it does have fascism—settling a partisan score like dictators do.

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