The war of words over race and anti-Semitism is heating up on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers in both parties launched new salvos Tuesday in the escalating uproar over recent comments from Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOmar accuses Cheney of ‘deep seeded hate and Islamophobia’ Sanders defends Tlaib from Trump: ‘Stop dividing the American people up by their religion’ Hoyer defends Tlaib Holocaust remarks after criticism from GOP MORE (D-Mich.) invoking the Holocaust.
House Republicans fired shots at the Michigan freshman and her party defenders, accusing Democrats of whitewashing sentiments that GOP lawmakers have portrayed as anti-Semitic.
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiOn The Money: Stocks plummet as Trump’s trade war with China escalates | China retaliates with tariffs on US crops | Trump eyes 0B in new tariffs | Trump, Xi to meet | Kavanaugh breaks with conservative justices in Apple case Omar accuses Cheney of ‘deep seeded hate and Islamophobia’ Hillicon Valley: Justices deal blow to Apple over App Store lawsuit | Twitter apologizes for sharing users’ location data | Dems turn focus to rural broadband | Activists protest Palantir’s work with ICE MORE (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — Measles outbreak tops 830 cases in US | Inslee signs nation’s first public option insurance bill | Maryland raises tobacco buying age to 21 Sanders defends Tlaib from Trump: ‘Stop dividing the American people up by their religion’ Top Finance Dem offers bill to help those repaying student loans save for retirement MORE (D-Md.) have responded in kind, denouncing Tlaib’s critics for twisting her message in an effort to divide the party and win the favor of Jewish voters, who have long flocked to the Democrats’ side.
Other top Democrats joined in defending Tlaib on Tuesday.
“Rep. Tlaib has been purposefully slandered by the President and other Republicans with her comments deliberately taken out of context and mischaracterized,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump tweets conservative commentator’s criticism of FBI director Actress Marcia Gay Harden records Mother’s Day message in support of LGBTQ rights bill 2020 hopeful Kamala Harris says US faces constitutional crisis MORE (D-N.Y.), one of the most powerful Jewish lawmakers, said in a statement. “It is clear from the full quote that she was not making any antisemitic reference.”
The bitter back-and-forth marked the latest development in the ongoing debate over Israel and Congress’s approach to its longtime Middle East ally. That dynamic took on new dimensions this year with the arrival of two outspoken Muslim women — Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOmar accuses Cheney of ‘deep seeded hate and Islamophobia’ Sanders defends Tlaib from Trump: ‘Stop dividing the American people up by their religion’ Hoyer defends Tlaib Holocaust remarks after criticism from GOP MORE (D-Minn.) — on Capitol Hill.
The partisan brawl is also playing out against the backdrop of the 2020 campaign, with President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawsuit alleges Trump campaign paid women less than men Graham encourages Donald Trump Jr. to plead the 5th Crunch time for Senate disaster aid talks MORE accusing Tlaib of harboring “tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.”
More than any other Republican, House GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyOmar accuses Cheney of ‘deep seeded hate and Islamophobia’ Sanders defends Tlaib from Trump: ‘Stop dividing the American people up by their religion’ Hoyer defends Tlaib Holocaust remarks after criticism from GOP MORE (Wyo.) has seized on the issue, taking to social media and cable TV to attack Tlaib and the Democratic leaders who “enable the anti-Semitism in their ranks.” Her involvement has boosted her profile and comes amid speculation that Cheney, a defense hawk and fierce Israel backer, might jump into next year’s Wyoming Senate race and could land on a future Republican presidential ticket.
Campaign politics may also have motivated Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to wade into the fight on Tuesday. The Sunshine State, where Scott served eight years as governor, is a critical battleground in the 2020 presidential election, and winning over a larger chunk of the influential Jewish vote there could tip the balance for Trump as he seeks a second term.
“Democrats’ tolerance of anti-Semitism exposes their intolerance,” Scott tweeted.
In the 2018 midterms, 70 percent of Jewish voters in Florida voted for Democrats, compared with the 76 percent who stuck with the party nationwide, according to a poll commissioned by the progressive Jewish group J Street. Republican Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisTrump gambles in push for drug import proposal Florida gov signs bill to arm teachers Overnight Health Care: Trump wants HHS to help Florida with drug imports | Graham calls inaction on drug prices ‘unacceptable’ | Abortion battles heat up with Kavanaugh on Supreme Court MORE narrowly beat Democrat Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race last fall, while Scott edged out Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe muscle for digital payment Rubio says hackers penetrated Florida elections systems FBI to brief Florida governor, senator on election hacking MORE by 0.4 percent.
The GOP outcry follows Tlaib’s recent interview with Yahoo News’s “Skullduggery” podcast, in which she denounced the lost lives, forced migrations and other hardships suffered by some Palestinians when Israel was created after World War II. Tlaib, the first Palestinian American to serve in Congress, couched her remarks by adding that she also experiences a “calming feeling” in considering that the political upheaval helped “create a safe haven for Jews” after years of “tragedy and horrific persecution,” including the Holocaust.
“All of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time,” she said in the podcast, which was published Saturday. “And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right? … But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.”
Historians and prominent Jewish commentators quickly took issue with Tlaib’s version of events, noting that fierce opposition to Israel’s founding by many Palestinians led to years of violence that hurt both sides. Some also pointed out that the leader of Palestine’s Arabs at the time, Muhammad Haj Amin al Husseini, had opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine during Adolf Hitler’s reign in Germany — obstructing one of the few safe havens for Jews seeking to flee Europe — and later aligned himself with the Nazi regime.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, called attention to al Husseini in a series of tweets Tuesday.
“He murdered Jews,” Giuliani said. “He did everything he could to destroy a Jewish homeland.”
Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelOvernight Health Care: Biden backs Medicare buy-in | New warnings as measles cases surpass record | House Dems propose M to study gun violence prevention House Democrats seek to protect Planned Parenthood from Trump’s funding cuts Democrats put harassment allegations against Trump on back burner MORE (D-Fla.) also characterized some of Tlaib’s remarks as inaccurate, but defended her Democratic colleague.
“Congresswoman Tlaib’s comments that Palestinians helped create a ‘safe haven’ for Jews after the Holocaust is historically inaccurate,” said Frankel, who is Jewish and co-chair of the Women’s Caucus. “However, her statement was taken out of context and the criticism of anti-Semitism is political and not warranted. Personally, I wish all politicians would stop using Jews as political footballs.”
Some congressional Republicans took their critiques beyond the historical realm and alleged that Tlaib’s “calming feeling” was in reference to the killing of more than 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.
“There is just no context in which it is OK to say that a calming feeling comes over you when you think about the Holocaust,” Cheney said in an interview Tuesday with “Fox & Friends.”
“Most fourth graders know what the Holocaust was, and she apparently doesn’t,” Cheney added.
Scott, meanwhile, extended his criticisms to Pelosi, who a day earlier had demanded that Trump and Tlaib’s other GOP critics offer an apology.
“No, @SpeakerPelosi, you should stop defending anti-Semitism,” Scott tweeted on Tuesday.
Tlaib, for her part, is offering no apologies. Appearing on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Myers” on Monday, she said she was simply lending a voice to her Palestinian ancestors, including her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank.
“I will continue to speak truth to power, continue to uplift my grandmother through love, and that’s all I can do,” Tlaib said. “[I will] continue to share the human impact of what it means to be Palestinian in the occupied territories.”
Overall, the full-throated defense of Tlaib from Pelosi and Hoyer has been markedly different from their response in February, when party leaders banded together to condemn comments from Omar. Many lawmakers deemed those remarks anti-Semitic, resulting in passage of an anti-hate resolution on the House floor.
“Republicans’ desperate attempts to smear @RepRashida & misrepresent her comments,” Pelosi tweeted this week, “are outrageous.”