House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday she does “not believe” that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn,) “understood the full weight” of a comment she made that some have criticized as anti-Semitic.
“She didn’t have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people where these words have a history and a cultural impact that might have been unknown to her,” Pelosi at a press briefing.
Pelosi’s remarks came just hours before a planned House vote on a House resolution spurred by Omar’s comment ― a measure that has sparked turmoil within the ranks of the chamber’s Democrats.
Omar has been at the center of controversy for much of her time as a new congresswoman, most recently because of an assertion she made last week at a gathering in Washington.
“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” she said, in reference to Israel.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle responded by accusing her of anti-Semitism. Omar has denied that she intended to use anti-Semitic tropes or accuse American Jews of being more loyal to Israel than the U.S.
House Democratic leaders have scrambled to figure out a way to defuse the furor, with the latest plan settling on the vote Thursday on the resolution that will condemn various forms of anti-Semitism, along with bigotry toward Muslims and other minorities. The resolution, posted by the House Democratic leadership early Thursday afternoon, does not mention Omar by name.
The push for the resolution resulted in a backlash among some House Democrats, who have viewed it as an indirect and unnecessary slight at Omar.
Omar was defended on Wednesday by three leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination ― Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Perhaps the most notable to comment was is Sanders, who is vying to become the first Jewish U.S. president of the United States and was pressed by many supporters to speak out in Omar’s defense. While calling anti-semitism a “hateful and dangerous ideology,” he said it should not be equated with “legitimate criticism” of Israel’s “right-wing” government under Premier Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pelosi, in her Thursday remarks, said she didn’t believe Omar’s comments were “intended in an anti-Semitic way.” Discussing the resolution, she said that because that’s how the comments were interpreted by some, “We have to remove all doubt, as we have done over and over again.”
“We’re working now on a resolution on the floor that will, again, speak out against anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy and all the forms it takes, that our country has no place for this,” she said.
The speaker went on to say that she thought “the resolution should enlarge the issue to anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy ― and it should not mention [Omar’s] name, and that’s what we’re working on, something that is one resolution addressing all those forms of hatred and not mentioning her name.”
“Because it’s not about her. It’s about these forms of hatred,” said Pelosi.
Pelosi also said that she does not believe Omar needs to apologize, but rather “explain.”
“It’s up to her to explain. But I do not believe she understood the full weight of the words,” she said.
Part of what Omar needs to adjust to, Pelosi said, is the difference in approach between being an activist for a given cause and being a member of Congress. Referring to her own past as both a mother and activist before winning a House seat in the late 1980s, she said, “That was me pushing a stroller and carrying those signs. I understand how advocates come in with their enthusiasms.”
Pelosi continued: “But when you cross that threshold in the Congress, your words weigh much more than when you’re shouting at somebody outside. And I feel confident that (Omar’s) 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 a cultural impact that might have been unknown to her.”