The new management in the House of Representatives has decided it would rather not have Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat, sitting on the Committee on Foreign Affairs. That’s understandable. She’s both annoying and fundamentally unbright. For all we know, she probably hates America as well.
None of that matters.
The unfortunate and irreducible truth is that the people of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District elected her to represent them. Their votes should count the same as everyone else’s.
Way back in February 2021, when the Democrats stripped Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Georgia Republican, of her committee assignments, this column predicted that would set in motion an endless and destructive cycle of retribution. Here we are.
In that moment, the Democrats sought temporary political advantage over the Republicans by compelling them, however briefly, to support free speech even for people — such as QAnon — who may be unappetizing to some. Last week, the Republicans sought revenge by claiming that Ms. Omar had engaged in antisemitic speech. No word on whether engaging in pro-semitic speech is OK.
The Omar vote accelerated the House’s long, terrible spiral toward oligarchy and irrelevance. For the second time in living memory, the majority party decided who would represent the minority party on House committees. More ominously, both decisions were made entirely on the basis of a lawmaker’s words rather than actions.
The House Republicans have now, unfortunately, cemented the precedent of precluding members of Congress from sitting on committees for reasons wholly unrelated to their actions.
The Republican majority has concluded (like their predecessors) that some legal speech is unacceptable – in this instance, political speech, which is not criminal and is protected by the First Amendment. That seems to be contrary to the oath of office that lawmakers take. It also diminishes the actual professional currency of members of Congress – political speech.
Ms. Omar is guilty of many things, but she hasn’t been convicted of any crime. She is being removed from a committee assignment – canceled if you will – because of things she has said.
Now that the precedent is firmly established, majority parties will naturally and eventually seek to remove the most effective members of the other side from their committee positions, which will lead eventually to the de facto end of the committee process in the House.
After stripping committee assignments becomes commonplace (give it about 10 years), only the most anodyne and least effective lawmakers will be allowed to sit on committees at all. That guarantees that the committees will become nothing more than reliable stooges of leadership. If you care about representative and deliberative governing, that’s not a good outcome, and it is directly contrary to the return to regular order on which the resistance focused just a few weeks ago.
Finally, you know things are grim when Rep. Matt Gaetz is a voice of reason, even if only temporarily. Before the vote, he said:
“It’s not complicated. Either free speech is important, or it isn’t. Either the minority party is entitled to protections, or it isn’t. Either voters count – all of them, even the ones careless enough to vote for people like Ms. Omar — or they don’t. House Republicans should not have confirmed a precedent that compromises free speech, weakens the House, and essentially treats some voters as more valuable than others.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated Podcast.” He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.