By Andrew O'Reilly
Published March 13, 2019
At first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to find two lawmakers more dissimilar than Ilhan Omar and Steve King.
Omar is a Somali immigrant and freshman Democratic congresswoman on the liberal end of the partisan spectrum. King is a long-tenured Republican congressman whose tough stances on issues like immigration have made him among the most conservative lawmakers in Washington.
And yet ever since Congress last week passed a resolution condemning bigotry in response to alleged anti-Semitic comments from Omar, it has been difficult to talk about one lawmaker without mentioning the other.
Both lawmakers ran into trouble with their own parties for incendiary comments. Yet as the dust settles on last week's Omar controversy, Republicans maintain that the Minnesota congresswoman was treated with kid gloves by comparison – and continue to pressure Democrats to deal with Omar like they dealt with King.
“The Democrats have yet to take any action to remove her from her committee,” Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming congresswoman and the third-ranking Republican in the House, said over the weekend, referring to Omar's still-secure spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to stand up and do the right thing.”
The parties' handling of how to discipline the lawmakers is a study in contrasts.
For his part, King was stripped of committee assignments as he faced condemnation for saying, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” to the New York Times earlier this year.
Democratic leaders, however, have allowed Omar to remain on the Foreign Affairs Committee. And they overhauled a planned resolution on anti-Semitism following concern in the ranks that it would unfairly single out Omar, and instead passed a broad anti-bigotry resolution last week. This, following comments from Omar claiming Israel supporters seek "allegiance" to the Jewish state, which drew accusations that she was echoing the "dual-loyalties" smear.
“It is absolutely shameful that Nancy Pelosi and Leader [Steny] Hoyer and the Democratic leaders will not put her name in a resolution on the floor and condemn her remarks and remove her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Those people who won’t condemn it are enabling it,” Cheney said.
Despite Cheney's comments, however, neither King nor Omar was named in the resolutions drafted in response to their comments.
Further Democrats argue that it took Republicans a long time to censure King for racially charged comments he’s made in the past.
“It took them 13 years to notice Steve King?” Pelosi said of the Republicans, adding that President Trump never condemned King for his comments. Trump has called Omar “terrible” and said she should resign from her post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Other Democratic lawmakers – including several presidential candidates – came to Omar’s defense. They suggested that her comments could be seen simply as criticism of U.S. foreign policy and Israeli lobbying efforts.
"We have a moral duty to combat hateful ideologies in our own country and around the world -- and that includes both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a statement. "In a democracy, we can and should have an open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy. 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.”
Unlike Omar, King -- who has a history of controversy including ties to far-right European groups, exaggerated claims about immigrants and crime and an endorsement of a white nationalist politician in Canada -- did not apologize for the comments that led to his reprimand. He has rejected claims that he is aligned with white nationalists.
“Omar’s apology, and the speed at which it was offered, is quite different from how Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) responded when he came under fire for his comments about race,” Eugene Scott, a columnist for the Washington Post, wrote. “King refused to apologize. Though he didn’t deny his quote in the Times, he painted the outrage against him as a political witch hunt.”
Some conservative commentators, however, argue that King’s comments were made over a long period of time, while Omar has only been in Congress since January and already has been the center of controversy on numerous occasions. They add that while GOP leaders may have taken their time condemning King, they eventually took a firm stance against him.
“They probably should have done something sooner and they probably regret not doing something sooner,” Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told Fox News.
Olsen added that if Democrats don’t take firm action against Omar, she will continue to court controversy and the party will end up in a similar situation as the Republicans with King.
“King got in trouble for a lot of scandals until it became something they couldn’t ignore,” he said. “And the same thing will probably happen with the Democrats and Omar.”