Nov 7, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Congress' Israel tensions come to a head as Tlaib faces censure vote

Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Weeks of partisan discord in Congress over the Israel-Hamas war may culminate in a vote on Wednesday to censure Palestinian American Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Why it matters: Tlaib has sparked backlash from both parties as one of Congress' most outspoken critics of Israel, with her latest statement defending the pro-Palestinian slogan, "From the river to the sea," triggering a new round of Democratic infighting.

What they're saying: "Echoing slogans that are widely understood as calling for the complete destruction of Israel — such as from the River to the Sea — does not advance progress toward a two-state solution," House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Tuesday marking one month since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack.

Driving the news: The House voted 208-213 on Tuesday to defeat a Democratic maneuver to kill Rep. Rich McCormick's (R-Ga.) resolution censuring Tlaib.

  • A half dozen Republicans voted with Democrats to block the measure: Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.), John Duarte (Calif.), Mike Garcia (Calif.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Tom McClintock (Calif.) and Ryan Zinke (Mont.).
  • Just one Democrat, pro-Israel Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), voted against killing the measure.
  • 11 lawmakers were absent, including eight Democrats — whose presence may have changed the outcome of the vote.

Details: The resolution accuses Tlaib of "promoting false narratives" regarding the Oct. 7 attack and "calling for the destruction of Israel," citing:

  • Her statement on the Oct. 7 attack, saying: "The path to that future must include lifting the blockade, ending the occupation, and dismantling the apartheid system that creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance."
  • Her social media post last month blaming Israel for a hospital explosion in Gaza that the U.S. determined was likely caused by a faulty Palestinian rocket.
  • Her defense of "from the river to the sea," a slogan that Palestinian advocates say is a call for equality but which Israel sympathizers say is a call for the violent destruction of the Jewish homeland.

Zoom in: The vote on Tuesday was followed by a heated floor debate that saw simmering anger unleashed in a public display.

  • "She takes the death threats that you all send — that they send her way," Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said of Tlaib in an emotional speech in which she repeatedly tried to speak over the presiding officer gaveling her down.
  • Tlaib, in her own floor speech, said she "will not be silenced" and — holding up a photo of her grandmother as she held back tears — declared: "I can't believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable."

State of play: The measure appears on track to pass, with Garcia and Reps. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) — who voted to block it on Tuesday — telling Axios they plan to vote for final passage.

  • Zinke and several pro-Israel Democrats who voted to kill the measure said they are undecided or declined to weigh in on their plans for Wednesday. "I'm going to spend a lot of time agonizing [over it]," Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.) told Axios.
  • A House Democrat told Axios that several additional moderate Democrats plan to vote to censure Tlaib.
  • Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Bill Keating (D-Mass.), who were absent Tuesday, will be at the vote on Wednesday, their offices said — but so will Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).

The intrigue: Several Republicans who voted to table the resolution expressed frustration at spending time on punishing lawmakers for controversial statements rather than focusing on issues like the looming government funding deadline.

  • "We need to be doing our work ... We don't need House censure for idiotic statements," Duarte told Axios. "It's a waste of time."
  • Garcia noted that Congress has "got appropriations bills, we've got to avoid a government shutdown, we're trying to actually get funding to Israel."
  • "We have a lot of very important things to do here and we've already had this discussion," he said.
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