House Democrats are growing increasingly alarmed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s comments that are critical of Israel, but so far, have stopped short of saying the Michigan Democrat deserves to be censured over her rhetoric.
Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress and an outspoken critic of Israel, roiled her colleagues with her recent use of an anti-Israel chant “from the river to the sea” in a video accusing President Joe Biden of supporting a Palestinian “genocide.” While the phrase is seen by many as a call for Jewish genocide in Israel and has been used by Hamas as a rallying cry, Tlaib has defended her comments, claiming that she views the phrase as “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.”
Democratic Whip Katherine Clark made the case for why House Democrats should vote against the censure resolutions during the caucus closed-door meeting Tuesday, a source told CNN.
The message from House Democratic leadership to the caucus was “don’t divide Congress,” according to Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said, “of course I do” when asked by CNN if he has concerns over Tlaib’s use of the anti-Israel chant. But Jeffries did not answer when asked if he has expressed those concerns to the congresswoman.
Rep. Haley Stevens, a fellow Michigan Democrat, said she strongly disagrees with Tlaib’s use of the phrase, but said she doesn’t like the idea of censure, either.
Two Republican lawmakers have filed separate resolutions to censure Tlaib this week, after a similar effort failed last week. GOP leadership has two days to schedule a floor vote on the measures.
“I have been really careful, partly because our Michigan delegation is so small, and we work together,” Stevens told CNN. “I don’t want my job to be policing or responding for anyone’s statements.”
Rep. Debbie Dingell, also a Michigan Democrat, echoed a similar sentiment, saying she is uncomfortable with Tlaib’s rhetoric but doesn’t think censure resolutions are “helpful to anybody on either side.”
“I would not use that phrase. … But freedom of speech is a fundamental right,” she told reporters.
Dingell then grew emotional as she talked about the fear that her Jewish and Muslim constituents are feeling since the Israel-Hamas war broke out. “The hate that we are seeing is scaring the sh*t out of me,” she said. “The death threats that are out there, the division in the communities, it’s not OK.”
Dingell said she has also faced threats over her stance on the war.
“I had a threat happen to me yesterday. I was threatened,” she said. “Because there’s an enormous pressure on every person here to call for a ceasefire. “
Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider is circulating a statement condemning Tlaib’s recent comments but stopped short of saying he supports a censure resolution.
“People have a right to speak and the statement isn’t calling out anyone specifically,” the Illinois lawmaker told CNN.
Tlaib – who dodged reporters in the Capitol on Monday – also still has support among her fellow progressive colleagues, known as “the Squad.”
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CNN, “We have to get out of this spiral using these censure resolutions to target members in a constant back and forth instead of actually legislating.”
Meanwhile, there are signs that GOP support for censuring Tlaib is growing.
Last week, 23 House Republicans opposed a Tlaib censure resolution led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. But the Georgia Republican slightly revamped her language to exclude a characterization of a recent pro-Palestinian protest at the Capitol as an “insurrection,” instead referring to it as an “illegal occupation.”
And GOP Rep. Richard McCormick of Georgia, who opposed Greene’s resolution, filed his own, more narrowly tailored resolution to censure Tlaib, which included Tlaib’s more recent anti-Israel comments.
GOP Rep. Chip Roy, who also opposed Greene’s resolution, signaled openness to backing one of the new censure resolutions if handled the right way, telling CNN, “They’re steps in the right direction.”
The Texas Republican voted against Greene’s censure resolution of Tlaib last week because he said it was a “mistake” to compare the protest calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war that Tlaib spoke at to the insurrection at the US Capitol complex on the January 6, 2021.
But at least one Republican said they’re still opposed to censuring Tlaib: Colorado Rep. Ken Buck.
“We should stop this nonsense, we should stop censuring. People are going to have differences of opinion, sometimes they’re going to miss the facts. So be it. Let their voters make that decision,” Buck said. “We’ll hold her accountable in other ways. But a censure motion is not the way to do it.”
The proposed Tlaib censure has sparked a tit-for-tat among lawmakers looking to target one another across the aisle. Last week, Democratic Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont filed but then pulled back on a resolution to censure Greene over her history of inflammatory remarks.
And on Monday, California Rep. Sara Jacobs, a Jewish Democrat, filed a censure resolution against GOP Rep. Brian Mast of Florida for his comments comparing Palestinian civilians to Nazi civilians.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
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