Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) on Thursday disagreed sharply with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who is defending Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) after the freshman congresswoman made anti-Semitic remarks last week.
At an event in Washington, D.C. last week, Omar said she wanted "to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." Despite backlash, she did not back down from her comments, tweeting she "should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee."
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Sanders came to Omar's defense, warning against "equat[ing] anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel."
"What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate," Sanders added.
Asked about Sanders's defense on MSNBC on Thursday, Hoyer said the Vermont senator and presidential candidate is "incorrect."
"I think that is incorrect. I think he is correct that we don't want to stifle debate. This is not about debate, this is about stereotypes," Hoyer said.
"This is about language that has been used for a very long period of time to demean and discriminate against Jews and other people, because as you know the resolution has been broadened. But I disagree with Senator Sanders that this is about free speech and about discussing policies or frankly the Netanyahu administration's putting in its coalition a party that has clearly used racist and hate speech. I think that's unfortunate, but this is not about that."
Hoyer also argued the controversy around Omar did not originate in policy differences.
"This is not about debate, this is not about policy debates. Every member of Congress, every American citizen, has a right and should debate policy differences in an open way without fear of recriminations except obviously opposition to the idea perhaps, but I think the senator is not accurate that this has nothing to do with any member's right to debate policy and to articulate their positions on policy. It is about doing so in a way that stokes prejudice, bigotry, and hatred," Hoyer said.
House Democratic leaders plan to move forward with a vote on a resolution "opposing hate" on Thursday. The controversy unleashed by Omar's remarks have divided the Democratic caucus, and "House Democratic leaders are struggling to contain the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar's comments about Israel, with the caucus fighting behind closed doors over whether — and how — to respond," Politico reported.
Earlier this month, Omar apologized for anti-Semitic tweets, many of which were quietly deleted last week. Omar has also apologized for a past tweet in which she accused Israel of hypnotizing the world and performing evil acts.