Under rising pressure from the left, House Democratic leaders are eyeing several options to respond to Rep. Lauren Boebert’s Islamophobic comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar — all of which fall short of progressives’ demands.
Referring Boebert to the House Ethics Committee or calling up a measure tackling Islamophobia are among the actions being discussed by Democratic leaders to deal with the Colorado conservative, according to three people familiar with the matter. That might not be enough to satisfy progressives, who want their leadership to act and on Wednesday introduced legislation to boot Boebert from her committees.
"If leadership does not act accordingly, we are condoning that behavior. Not just here in Congress, but we are sending the message across the country, around the world, that anti-Muslim hate is OK," Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.
Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) added that “we cannot be complicit as members of this body trample on the fundamental right of religious freedom and put people’s lives in danger."
Democratic leaders are in a growing bind over Boebert. They don’t want to let her Islamophobic comments about Omar go unaddressed and have struggled to explain to their members why Boebert’s behavior is different than their quick punishment of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who lost his committees after posting an anime video depicting the killing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Gosar was the second member to be removed from his panels this year, after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
But at the same time, Democratic leaders want House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to police his own conference and are leery of setting a precedent that they must respond to every objectionable remark by the GOP’s right flank.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has privately told Omar that stripping committees is still on the table as recently as today, according to a source familiar with the situation, though few senior Democrats believe it is likely Pelosi will do so. Omar, for her part, has projected confidence Pelosi will move against Boebert.
Democratic leaders are specifically looking a bill drafted by Omar and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) that would create a special envoy within the State Department to monitor and combat Islamophobia worldwide. The bill is expected to soon be marked up in committee.
Republican leaders, however, have said they see the matter as settled since it happened several weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving.
"When a member apologizes, I think you ought to respect and appreciate that," Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said earlier Wednesday. Democrats say Boebert’s conversational contrition to Omar, described by the conservative as culminating in a separate demand that Omar apologize, was insufficient.
The intra-Democratic furor over Boebert’s remarks is the latest case of long-simmering divisions bubbling over between party moderates and progressives. The factions have sparred over the size, scope, and timing of President Joe Biden’s agenda, but the tension over Boebert and Omar has highlighted the limits of progressives’ ability to force action.
Further complicating the challenge that House Democratic leadership faces is the fraught relationship that some of their members have with Omar. Even voting on a measure calling out Islamophobia makes some Democrats uncomfortable, given that Republicans are likely to dredge up Omar’s own record of divisive comments, including some that have been described by Democrats as anti-Semitic.
Moderates see the latest round of controversy as a distraction from keeping focus on their agenda. Punishing more Republicans, they contend, only rewards fringe members of the GOP conference who can put themselves in the spotlight, capitalize on their clashes with Democrats and fundraise off motivating their base.
Pelosi aired frustration about the matter in a private caucus meeting Wednesday morning, noting the majority of questions from reporters that morning were about Boebert and not ones of “substance.” She reiterated that critique at a press conference later in the day, telling reporters that “I don’t feel like talking about what the Republicans aren’t or are doing about the disgraceful, unacceptable behavior of their members."
“When I’m ready to announce that [decisive action], I’ll let you know,” she said.
But progressives say the comments by Boebert — who suggested on two occasions, both caught on tape, that Omar was a terrorist who could threaten her colleagues’ lives — aren’t a mere distraction, but a danger to the safety of their own members.
“When we inconsistently apply consequences to bigotry, we invite more people to test these boundaries,” Ocasio-Cortez said Wednesday.