The Political Punishment Game: House Republicans Vote to Oust Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee

Politics can be a game of punishment and reward, and the recent vote to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the Foreign Affairs Committee is just the latest example of how both parties have used committee assignments to punish those who cross the line. On Thursday, House Republicans voted 218 to 211 to back the resolution condemning Omar for past antisemitic comments and removing her from the committee. One Republican, Dave Joyce of Ohio, voted present. All 211 Democrats unified behind Omar, who gave an emotional and defiant floor speech before the vote that left many of her colleagues in tears.

The resolution was authored by Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, a former Trump White House aide who is Jewish. Miller argued that Omar’s antisemitic comments disqualified her from serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Omar had tweeted in 2019 that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish donors were paying politicians to back Israel, saying: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” She also came under fire from fellow Democrats after they said she had equated the “United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban.”

Despite the Republican majority, Speaker Kevin McCarthy faced a handful of GOP defections. But he and his team had whipped GOP members back in line, and the vote to remove Omar almost didn’t happen. Last week, several Republicans voiced opposition to the GOP’s taking action against Omar, threatening to derail the resolution given their new, razor-thin majority.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., one of Omar’s closest allies, took to the floor Thursday to rail against Republicans. She argued that there was nothing consistent about the Republican Party’s continued attacks, except for the racism and incitement of violence against women of color in this body.

After the vote, McCarthy said he had just spoken with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., about appointing members of both parties to a working group that would come up with a proposal spelling out the reasons lawmakers could be removed from committees and the process for doing it. McCarthy argued that the House’s action didn’t amount to a “tit-for-tat” against Democrats — Republicans will allow Omar to serve on other committees, he said.

The vote to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee is just the latest example of how both parties have used committee assignments in the past two years to punish lawmakers who cross the line. It started in February 2021, when House Democrats — and 11 Republicans — voted to boot far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from two committees for past social media posts that spread racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories and threatened violence against Pelosi and Obama.

It’s clear that both parties are willing to go to extreme lengths to punish those who cross the line. But the real question is, when will the political punishment game come to an end?