House Republicans are sitting back and letting Democrats inflict damage on themselves as they struggle to respond to the growing firestorm over Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
GOP leaders had been weighing whether to take their own action against Omar, who sparked an uproar for suggesting that pro-Israel activists and lawmakers hold “allegiance to a foreign country.” The freshman firebrand has emerged as a top target on the right in recent months.
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But Republicans, who already successfully used procedural tools to rebuke Omar for using anti-Semitic tropes last month, are instead choosing to not respond right now, forcing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to pick from a difficult set of options.
“I would like to see what the Democrats are going to do,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday. “We’ve already led on this issue.”
Republicans, who saw years of infighting when they were in the majority, are now relishing watching the other side erupt into chaos and are eager to exploit those intraparty divisions.
“They have disarray in their own conference,” said Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) during a pen and pad. “Ultimately, we’ve been very clear that Speaker Pelosi has the full power and authority to take action on her own. And she should. But she hasn’t.”
Democratic leaders initially planned to put a resolution on the floor Wednesday condemning anti-Semitism, hoping to move quickly to quell the ballooning political crisis surrounding Omar. But during a tense closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning, Pelosi and her team came under fire from rank-and-file members who complained about leadership’s approach to the controversy.
The vote has been delayed indefinitely, and leaders are now scrambling to retool the resolution to make it more broad and appeal to more members.
The drama has sucked up all the oxygen on Capitol Hill this week, overshadowing Democrats’ work on a sweeping election reform package and even drowning out a high-profile hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
That’s why Republicans think their best strategy is to just let Democrats tear each other apart over the issue. And the GOP’s options are limited in the minority anyway: they likely can’t use procedural tools on the election reform bill to punish Omar, because it wouldn’t be germane. And forcing a vote on a censure resolution rebuking Omar could spark a nasty tit-for-tat with Democrats.
The GOP is also trying to contrast how Democrats and Republicans have responded to controversies involving one of their own, with GOP leaders repeatedly highlighting how they kicked Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) off his committee assignments after he made racist remarks in January.
“I just know that in our conference, when we have an issue, we actually removed people from committee,” said McCarthy.