Why hasn’t Nancy Pelosi acted yet to punish Lauren Boebert for her Islamophobic comments?

Slow progress has angered some progressives

John Bowden
Thursday 09 December 2021 00:57
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Lauren Boebert calls Ilhan Omar 'jihad squad' during thanksgiving rally

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing some heat from members of her own party as the pressure mounts on her leadership team to bring to the floor a resolution enacting punishment against Rep Lauren Boebert for Islamophobic comments she made about a fellow congresswoman, Ilhan Omar.

The controversy started when video of Ms Boebert speaking at a fundraiser was posted, revealing the congresswoman telling a joke in which she suggests that Ms Omar is a suicide bomber because of her Muslim faith. She was later revealed to have made similar comments doubling down on the sentiment.

At her weekly news conference on Wednesday, Ms Pelosi batted away questions from journalists who asked when a resolution doing so would be brought to the floor or endorsed by her office; Ms Pelosi’s office has made general statements of support for some time of response by the House publicly and in private calls with members, but has not endorsed a resolution introduced formally by more than a dozen progressive members to strip Ms Boebert of her committee assignments as penance.

“I’ll announce that when I’m ready to announce it,” she said of her decision on what she would support in regards to a response to Ms Boebert’s conduct.

Let’s take a look at what could happen from here, and why Democratic leaders may choose not to act before the end of the year.

The progressives’ response

A resolution, authored by Rep Ayanna Pressley and introduced publicly on Wednesday, is endorsed by some of the House’s most prominent Democrats, including Reps Barbara Lee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic Party. If passed by the House, it would strip Ms Boebert of her membership on the House Budget and Natural Resources committees.

Ms Pelosi’s office has not endorsed the resolution, and the Speaker refused to say on Wednesday if she would support it when asked directly by reporters.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez has been vocal in her dissatisfaction with the speed at which House leadership is responding to the comments from Ms Boebert, even as the House voted in recent days to strip another Republican, Rep Paul Gosar, of his assignments following his posting of an anime video depicting violence against her and President Joe Biden.

U.S. House of Representatives vote to censure Paul Gosar

“I haven’t heard anything binding from leadership, which in and of itself is an embarrassment,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez said on Tuesday. “This shouldn’t take this long; this should not drag on. It’s pretty simple. It doesn’t have to be a big huge thing. It’s pretty open and closed.”

Others, including Ms Omar herself, have been more supportive of Ms Pelosi and her promises to take action on the issue, even as some Democratic staffers made the rounds anonymously in DC publications this week cautioning against the idea.

“I’ve had a conversation with the Speaker, and I’m very confident that she will take decisive action next week,” Ms Omar said on Sunday.

Pushback from moderates threatens to splinter caucus unity

In comments to multiple news outlets including Politico and The Washington Post, aides to moderate House Democrats pushed back against the idea of pursuing real consequences against Ms Boebert.

The Post reported that privately, some aides to moderate Democrats are warning about creating “a messy precedent that could force Democrats to censure members every time they make false, racist or cruel statements”.

Ilhan Omar Plays Death Threat Voicemail She Received in Response to Boebert’s Racist Anecdote

That standard, while appearing noble on its face, could end up being a double-edged sword for Democrats as Ms Omar herself has been accused by Republicans and some within her own caucus of making comments that have allegedly antisemitic undertones. Ms Omar has forcefully denied that she has implied anything antisemitic in her past remarks.

Even so, there remains bad blood between her and some conservative members of the Democratic caucus who could be reluctant to take action to punish a member on Ms Omar’s behalf if they believe it could hurt their reelection chances or fundraising prospects.

A bill to condemn Islamophobia is being pushed in the background

Some party members are privately throwing their support behind a bill being authored by Rep Jan Schakowsky alongside Ms Omar according to Politico, apparently hoping to find a compromise on the issue that would not involve further provoking Republican anger by punishing Ms Boebert directly.

The bill would create a special envoy position at the State Department and an office dedicated to monitoring and fighting Islamophobia around the world. Ms Omar’s partnership with Ms Schakowsky on the bill is significant, as the Somali-American congresswoman apologised to Ms Schakowsky, who is Jewish, earlier this year after Ms Schakowsky condemned Ms Omar’s statements about Israel and pro-Israel groups in the US as antisemitic.

That bill is currently headed for markups, but has no official date yet for a final vote.

Other members of leadership expect action soon

Rep Hakeem Jeffries, widely seen as a potential successor to Ms Pelosi as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said that despite leadership’s refusal to endorse specific action so far, the issue would see progress in the near future.

Mr Jeffries spoke on Wednesday just minutes before Ms Pelosi herself gave her remarks on the issue at her news conference.

“It is my expectation that Lauren Boebert is going to be held accountable,” he said. “I think the House as a whole is going to have to act.”

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