Racist behavior in the U.S. Congress - What's Your Point?

This week's panel: Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, Nyanza Davis Moore - Democratic Political Commentator Attorney, Bob Price – Associate Editor of Breitbart Texas,  Antonio Diaz- writer, educator and radio host,  Tomaro Bell – Super Neighborhood leader,  Kathleen McKinley – conservative blogger, join Greg Groogan to talk about racist behavior by some members of the U.S. Congress.

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, a freshman Democrat under fire for a series of statements viewed as anti-semitic and Iowa Congressman Steve King, who continues to serve under sanction despite remakrs considered bigoted.

How should party leaders and society address these issues?

NEW YORK (AP) - The allegations of anti-Semitism directed toward Rep. Ilhan Omar have no precedent in Congress. Yet on college campuses, in state legislatures and in many other venues nationwide, the polarized debate about Israel is a familiar conflict and likely to intensify.

Criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians has grown in volume and scope, with persistent calls for boycotts and disinvestment. The movement has been fueled by a wave of youthful activists, including many Jews aligning with Muslims.

Pro-Israel organizations and politicians have countered with tough responses. Efforts to reconcile the differences have gained little traction.

Congress has never experienced this kind of furor involving a Muslim member accused of anti-Semitism. Divided Democrats eventually drafted a resolution that condemned a wide range of bigotry and did not mention Omar by name.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Divided in debate but mostly united in a final vote, the House passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other bigotry Thursday, with Democrats trying to push past a dispute that has overwhelmed their agenda and exposed fault lines that could shadow them through next year's elections.

The one-sided 407-23 vote belied the emotional infighting over how to respond to freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar's recent comments suggesting House supporters of Israel have dual allegiances. For days, Democrats wrestled with whether or how to punish the lawmaker, arguing over whether Omar, one of two Muslim women in Congress, should be singled out, what other types of bias should be decried in the text and whether the party would tolerate dissenting views on Israel.

Republicans generally joined in the favorable vote, though nearly two-dozen opposed the measure, one calling it a "sham."

Generational as well as ideological, the argument was fueled in part by young, liberal lawmakers - and voters - who have become a face of the newly empowered Democratic majority in the House. These lawmakers are critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, rejecting the conservative leader's approach to Palestinians and other issues.

They split sharply from Democratic leaders who seemed caught off guard by the support for Omar and unprepared for the debate. But the leaders regrouped.

"It's not about her. It's about these forms of hatred," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote.

The resolution approved Thursday condemns anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities "as hateful expressions of intolerance." Omar, a Somali-American, and fellow Muslims Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Andrew Carson of Indiana, issued a statement praising the "historic" vote as the first resolution to condemn "anti-Muslim bigotry."

Some Democrats complained that Omar's comments on Israel had ignited all this debate while years of President Donald Trump's racially charged rhetoric had led to no similar congressional action.

The seven-page document details a history of recent attacks not only against Jews in the United States but also Muslims, as it condemns all such discrimination as contradictory to "the values and aspirations" of the people of the United States. The vote was delayed for a time on Thursday to include mention of Latinos to address concerns of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. It was inserted under a section on white supremacists who "weaponize hate for political gain" over a long list of "traditionally persecuted peoples."

An earlier version focused more narrowly on anti-Semitism. The final resolution did not mention Omar by name.

Getting this debate right will be crucial for Democrats in 2020. U.S.-Israel policy is a prominent issue that is exposing the splits between the party's core voters, its liberal flank and the more centrist Americans in Trump country the party hopes to reach.

"What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That's wrong," said presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent.

"Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world," the senator said. "We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel."

Other Democratic presidential contenders tried to walk a similar line.

California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said "we need to speak out against hate." But she said she also believes "there is a critical difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism."

A statement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, "Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians." She said threats of violence, including those made against Omar, "are never acceptable.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion, they are allowed to have free speech in this country," Gillibrand said. "But we don't need to use anti-Semitic tropes or anti-Muslim tropes to be heard."

Another member of the new crop of outspoken young House freshmen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, said the final product, as well as the way presidential candidates are now talking about the issue, showed "there's been some really great progress we've made."

But Omar's rhetoric is taking Democrats to a place that leaves many uneasy. The new lawmaker sparked a weeklong debate in Congress as fellow Democrats said her comments have no place in the party. She suggested Israel's supporters were pushing lawmakers to take a pledge of "allegiance" to a foreign country, reviving a trope of dual loyalties. It wasn't her first dip into such rhetoric.

The new congresswoman has been critical of the Jewish state in the past and apologized for those previous comments. But Omar has not apologized for what this latest comment.

Pelosi said she did not believe that Omar understood the "weight of her words" or that they would be perceived by some as anti-Semitic.

Asked whether the resolution was intended to "police" lawmakers' words, Pelosi replied, "We are not policing the speech of our members." Instead, she said, the goal was to condemn anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy.

Some of the House's leading Jewish Democrats wanted to bring a resolution on the floor simply condemning anti-Semitism.

But other Democrats wanted to broaden the resolution to include a rejection of all forms of racism and bigotry. Others questioned whether a resolution was necessary at all and viewed it as unfairly singling out Omar at a time when Trump and others have made disparaging racial comments.

There remained frustration that the party that touts its diversity conducted such a messy and public debate about how to declare its opposition to bigotry.

"This shouldn't be so hard," Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said on the House floor.

Among the Republican dissenters, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the GOP leadership, called the resolution "a sham put forward by Democrats to avoid condemning one of their own and denouncing vile anti-Semitism."

In part, Democratic leaders were trying to fend off a challenge from Republicans on the issue.

They worry they could run into trouble on another bill, their signature ethics and voting reform package, if Republicans try to tack their own anti-Semitism bill on as an amendment. By voting Thursday, the House Democratic vote counters believed they could inoculate their lawmakers against such a move.


Associated Press writers Padmananda Rama, Mary Clare Jalonick, Elana Schor, Juana Summers and Doug Glass contributed to this report.


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Why now?

Despite his seemingly endless string of racist comments and insults about immigrants, Iowa Rep. Steve King had the Republican Party's backing through nine elections and GOP presidential contenders often lined up for his endorsement in the state's lead-off caucuses.

Now many of those same Republicans are turning their backs on King, stripping him of his committee assignments on Capitol Hill and even calling for him to leave office. A prospective 2020 GOP challenger already has emerged in his district.

The shift comes at a moment when the party is grappling with its stance on racial issues, in part because of President Donald Trump's own inflammatory racial rhetoric and hardline views on immigration. GOP leaders also have conceded that the party must do better with minority voters and bring more diversity to their own ranks, currently dominated by white men.

There are also signs that King's track record is wearing on voters in his overwhelmingly Republican district, which he carried by just 3 points in November.

"He barely won in a very, very conservative district and that signaled people are growing fatigued, getting tired of having to put up with some of the unnecessary heartburn," said Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican who ran for Iowa governor in 2006 and leads the conservative group The Family Leader. "They don't want to put up with it anymore."

King's insensitive remarks have included arguing "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" and predicting chaos if whites are replaced as the nation's majority.

Yet Republican leaders still expressed shock following a recent New York Times story in which King expressed puzzlement about why terms like "white nationalist" are offensive, Republican leaders have expressed shock at his words, stripped him of his committee assignments and even questioned whether he belonged in Congress. The House voted 424-1 on Tuesday for a resolution repudiating King's words.

Don Kass, a former Republican chairman in largely rural Plymouth County, argued that while comments by conservatives often are subjected to the worst-possible interpretation, King never should have discussed such terms as white supremacy. He said party officials might be turning against King because of his narrow win last November, coupled with that fact that his national notoriety translates into fundraising success for his Democratic opponents.

"He had a 3 percent victory that should have been 30 percent, and that's not going to go away," said Kass, a county supervisor.

If he seeks re-election, King will face at least one opponent for the Republican nomination, as state Sen. Randy Feenstra announced last week he's seeking the seat.

Congressional leaders acknowledge King has a history of offensive statements, often in reference to immigrants and racial minorities.

Most Iowa Republicans backed King before the 2018 election, despite his praise of a nationalist party in Austria with Nazi ties and a tweet endorsing a white nationalist candidate for Toronto mayor. Among those who didn't, though, was Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the House Republicans' campaign committee.

"We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior," Stivers said then.

The timing was remarkable, as the GOP's campaign chief seemed to be encouraging Iowa voters to oust one of their sitting incumbents. Effectively, Republicans were putting the seat at risk at a time when they were already facing the loss of the House.

The uproar over King's comments comes against the backdrop of Trump's election and presidency, which has placed the debate over inflammatory racial discourse and white nationalism at the center of American politics in a manner not seen in decades.

The president stoked it in his campaign's first moments, suggesting when he announced his candidacy that Mexicans crossing the border could be "rapists" or "murderers." Since taking office, he's defended white nationalists in Charlottesville, deemed some African nations as "s---hole countries," described immigration as "an infestation," all while expressing a preference for immigrants from places likes Norway.

Trump did not condemn King's most recent comments, dodging the question on Monday by saying, "I don't -- I haven't been following it. I really haven't been following it."

When asked why he was rebuking King but not Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California stuck to his role leading fellow congressional Republicans.

"All I know is Steve King is a member of the conference," he said. "I am the leader of the Republican conference. When I see someone use the terms that Steve King used there's no place in this country for it."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, when asked Tuesday why he hadn't spoken out about King until now, said, "I haven't been following every utterance of Congressman King, but I certainly followed this one. And I think the House Republican Conference did the right thing."

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who has supported King for years, noted she had pushed back on some of his earlier comments. She called King's comments to the New York Times "just absolutely disgusting."

Karen Kedrowski, a political science professor at Iowa State University, said she thinks Republican politicians grew tired of King long ago, but given the nation's growing diversity that is reflected among the House Democratic majority, they feel they can no longer tolerate his comments.

"This should be a safe district and they're faced with someone who is always embarrassing them," she said. "Part of it is they're fed up and part of it is fear he could lose."


Associated Press writers Dustin Weaver, Laurie Kellman, Andrew Taylor and Jonathan Lemire in Washington contributed to this report.