House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind congresswoman Ilhan Omar Thursday as the freshman lawmaker continues to face calls for censure for remarks some have criticized as anti-Semitic.
“I do not believe that she understood the full weight of the words,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol building. “I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude.”
Omar came under criticism for a second time after she told a progressive town hall meeting last week U.S. lawmakers are being confronted with “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” referring to Israel.
Asked if she needs to apologize for the comments, Pelosi said Omar “may need to explain” what she meant, but stopped short of calling for an apology — an action Omar has so far refused to take.
The House is slated to vote later Thursday on an anti-hate resolution that was originally intended as a rebuke to Omar’s comments. The resolution has been broadened to include denunciations of Islamophobia, white supremacy and other forms of hate after initially addressing only anti-Semitism.
Pelosi said the resolution does not mention Omar, who is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, by name.
The row over Omar’s comments has exposed deep divides within the Democratic Party as a growing wing of progressives refuse to unwaveringly support Israel.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with several Democrats who have announced 2020 presidential bids, came to Omar’s defense.
Ocasio-Cortez directly questioned what she says are “hurtful” double standards arising from her fellow freshman lawmaker’s case.
“One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities,” she wrote in a series of Twitter posts, using a gender-neutral term popular among some progressives to refer to Latinos.
She pointed to one heated exchange in which Republican congressman Jason Smith shouted “go back to Puerto Rico!” while fellow lawmaker Tony Cardenas waited to speak on the House floor.
“It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “But incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’”