New Delhi: The House is headed for a showdown vote Wednesday on whether to punish Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan the only Palestinian American in Congress for her rhetoric about the Israel-Hamas war.
A vote to move forward on censuring Tlaib, a punishment one step below expulsion from the House, advanced Tuesday in a procedural vote. Republican Rep. Rich McCormick of Georgia proposed the measure in response to what he called Tlaib's promotion of antisemitic rhetoric.
"Rep. Tlaib has levied unbelievable falsehoods about our greatest ally, Israel, and the attack on October 7," McCormick said.
Debate on the censure resolution was emotional and intense. With other Democrats standing by her side, Tlaib defended her stance and accused Republicans of trying to silence differing views about the decades-long conflict in the Middle East.
"I will not be silenced and I will not let you distort my words," Tlaib said, adding that her criticism of the Jewish state has always been directed toward its government and its leadership under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"It is important to separate people and government," she said. "The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent. And it's been used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation."
The censure push sets the stage for a dramatic vote on the House floor amid political tensions over the ongoing, deadly Israel-Hamas war. While the majority of both parties have historically stood firmly on the side of Israel, divisions have emerged in the Democratic Party about the American response.
Some on the left have criticized President Joe Biden's stance and urged him to put conditions on U.S. support for Israel as its aggressive military campaign drives the Palestinian death toll higher by the day. But the outcome of the vote Wednesday remains uncertain as many of Tlaib's Democratic colleagues have become conflicted about her recent comments, especially surrounding a slogan she used that is widely seen as calling for the eradication of Israel.
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., the lone Democrat to vote with Republicans to advance the censure resolution, said he believed it was important to debate the slogan "from the river to the sea."
"It is nothing else but the call for the destruction of Israel and murder of Jews," he said. "I will always defend the right to free speech. Tlaib has the right to say whatever she wants."
He added, "But it cannot go unanswered."
While the vote against Tlaib will take place against an extraordinary backdrop, the push to censure her is part of a growing pattern in the House.
Censure had long been viewed as a punishment of last resort, to be triggered only for the most egregious wrongdoing. But censure resolutions are quickly becoming routine in the chamber, often wielded in strikingly partisan ways. While the censure itself carries no practical effect, it leaves a historic footnote that marks a lawmaker's career.
"This resolution not only degrades our Constitution, but it cheapens the meaning of discipline in this body for people who actually commit wrongful actions like bribery, fraud, violent assault and so on," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who defended Tlaib against the resolution on the floor.
A second resolution by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to censure Tlaib had also been scheduled for a procedural vote late Tuesday night. Both of the censure resolutions are "privileged," which is a procedural tool lawmakers can use to bypass leadership and committees and force votes in the House.
Tlaib, who is one of two Muslim women in the chamber, has long been the target of Republican attacks for her critical views of Israel's government and its treatment of Palestinians in the region.
That criticism reached new heights after the Oct. 7 attack by the terrorist group Hamas that left hundreds of Israelis dead and scores injured. Tlaib, who has family in the West Bank, came under heavy criticism after she failed to immediately condemn Hamas after the attack.
Shortly after, Greene, the far-right member from Georgia, introduced a resolution accusing Tlaib of "antisemitic activity" after she voiced concern over America's continued role in supplying arms to Israel as it engages in a bloody battle with Hamas.
Greene also falsely accused Tlaib of "leading an insurrection" in the Capitol complex when she participated in a pro-Gaza rally organized by Jewish advocacy groups last month.
The House voted against moving forward on that initial censure resolution last week, with 23 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting the table the measure. The broad bipartisan support came after both parties raised concerns about violating Tlaib's First Amendment rights. (AP)