House Democrats are vowing to defend Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) in the face of GOP efforts to formally reprimand her on the House floor over her criticism of Israel.
Republican leaders have scheduled separate votes Tuesday on two resolutions to censure Tlaib, saying her sharp denunciations of Israel’s response to last month’s deadly Hamas attacks are antisemitic and risk inciting violence against Israelis.
Democratic leaders are urging members to vote against the measure, however, citing Tlaib’s First Amendment rights. And a long list of other Democrats — including a number of prominent Jewish lawmakers — are lining up to oppose both measures, warning of the dangerous precedent that would be set if Congress were to pursue censure every time a fellow lawmaker utters controversial remarks.
“To my mind this is easy,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said. “I’m a professor of constitutional law. This is all about the freedom of speech and the speech and debate clause.”
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the same message.
“Freedom of speech is a part of our democracy,” Meeks said. “Not that I have to agree with the speech, but the freedom to say what you want is fundamental to America, it makes us different from others.
“People should have the freedom to say what they want; and I’ll have the freedom to say whether I agree or disagree,” he continued. “But I don’t think anybody should be censured for what they say.”
Still, several Jewish Democrats — including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Brad Schneider (Ill.) — said they are still weighing their votes.
“People have a right to express opinions,” Schneider said. [But] “river to the sea” is a statement embraced by Hamas, who call for the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of Jews. And this body needs to make [clear] that’s not acceptable rhetoric — not just when members of Congress are talking, but when we’re seeing the protests in our streets.”
Tlaib, Congress’s only Palestinian American member, has been highly critical of Israel’s military response to the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7, which killed over 1,400 people, accusing its leaders of conducting genocide as the number of civilian casualties in Gaza has spiked.
A short video Tlaib released on X over the weekend has been particularly controversial, accusing Biden of abetting the genocide of Palestinians and featuring clips of American protestors chanting “from the river to the sea” — a Hamas rallying cry suggesting that the state of Israel should be wiped from existence.
In response, two Georgia Republicans — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rich McCormick — have introduced resolutions to censure Tlaib, and both have forced votes on their competing measures, which are scheduled to hit the floor on Tuesday.
Greene had pushed a similar resolution last week, which accused Tlaib of “leading an insurrection” for her participation in an anti-war protest last month at the Capitol, where scores of people were arrested. It failed on the floor when 23 House Republicans — some objecting to Greene’s “insurrection” language — joined all Democrats in voting to sink it.
Greene’s latest proposal features several changes from the initial version. It highlights Tlaib’s recent video post, including the “river to the sea” clips, and accuses Tlaib of “incit[ing] an illegal occupation,” not an insurrection.
McCormick’s language is tamer, but also accuses Tlaib of calling for Israel’s destruction. It is expected to win more support than Greene’s proposal, but an overwhelming majority of Democrats appear ready to vote in defense of Tlaib, with some emphasizing her unique background and calling for empathy.
“The real hallmark of the United States of America is freedom of speech, and it’s not only speech that you agree with,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a prominent Jewish lawmaker.
“While there were certainly people who felt hurt by [Tlaib’s comments], she is the only Palestinian in the Congress of the United States. Her grandmother lives in the West Bank. We have to have a little compassion for her personal situation, and her freedom to speak out.”