House Moves Closer to Censuring Tlaib, Citing ‘River to the Sea’ Slogan

The House moved closer to censuring Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, on Tuesday, putting lawmakers on track to formally rebuke the sole Palestinian American in Congress for her statements regarding the Israel-Hamas war.

One Democrat broke with the party and joined most Republicans in voting against tabling, or killing, the resolution, which accuses Ms. Tlaib of “promoting false narratives” surrounding Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and of “calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.” The vote was 213 to 208, with one voting “present,” suggesting there was enough support in the House for the resolution to pass in a final vote expected on Wednesday.

Representative Brad Schneider of Illinois was the only Democrat to vote to allow the measure to move forward. Representative Susan Wild, Democrat of Pennsylvania, voted “present,” declining to take a position on whether the measure should be blocked. Six Republicans joined Democrats to vote to table the resolution.

The Republican-written measure reprimanding Ms. Tlaib was the latest flashpoint in an increasingly intense debate in Congress over the Israel-Hamas war that has divided Democrats. While many of them are staunchly supportive of Israel, there is mounting pressure from the progressive left to call for a cease-fire and focus on the plight of the Palestinian people in the face of ballooning civilian deaths and a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Ms. Tlaib has been by far the most vocal member of Congress to do so.

The measure, offered by Representative Rich McCormick, Republican of Georgia, argued that a statement Ms. Tlaib made after Hamas’s attack on Israel — which called for the end of “the apartheid system that creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance” — “defended” terrorism.

It also cited Ms. Tlaib’s embrace of the phrase “from the river to the sea,” a pro-Palestinian rallying cry that many regard as calling for the eradication of Israel and deemed antisemitic by the Anti-Defamation League. The resolution called the phrase “a genocidal call to violence to destroy the state of Israel and its people to replace it with a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Ms. Tlaib has said the slogan, which was used by pro-Palestinian protesters featured in a video she posted accusing President Biden of supporting genocide in Gaza, is “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction or hate.”

During the debate on the floor after the vote, Ms. Tlaib grew emotional as she reiterated her calls for a cease-fire, defended her criticism of the Israeli government and pleaded for sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people.

“I can’t believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable,” she said, appearing to choke back tears as Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, stood to comfort her. “The cries of the Palestinian and Israeli children sound no different to me.”

Ms. Tlaib said her criticism had “always been” of the Israeli government, not the Israeli people, and warned her colleagues that the movement urging a cease-fire was “growing every single day.”

“You can try to censure me, but you can’t silence their voices,” she said.

Representative Ayanna S. Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, called the resolution “blatantly Islamophobic, anti-democratic and an utter waste of time” in remarks defending Ms. Tlaib during the debate. Ms. Pressley argued that the measure was brought by Republicans “obsessed with policing progressive women of color.”

Other Democrats, however, have condemned Ms. Tlaib’s statements. And on Tuesday, Mr. Schneider, the lone Democrat who voted against tabling the resolution, accused Ms. Tlaib of “trying to gaslight the world and give cover” to those using the “river to the sea” slogan.

“I will always defend the right to free speech,” Mr. Schneider said in a statement. “Tlaib has the right to say whatever she wants. But it cannot go unanswered.”

Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, said in a statement after the vote that echoing the slogan “does not advance progress toward a two-state solution. Instead, it unacceptably risks further polarization, division and incitement to violence.”

Last week, the House struck down a different censure of Ms. Tlaib offered by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, which accused Ms. Tlaib of “antisemitic activity” and had called an Oct. 18 protest in a House office building an “insurrection.”

Ms. Greene amended and reintroduced her censure resolution, which faces a similar vote on Tuesday night. The new version instead refers to the Oct. 18 protest, at which Ms. Tlaib accused Israel of genocide, as an “illegal occupation” of a House office building.

Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, opposed Ms. Greene’s resolution last week and said he intended to vote against the new pair of censures as well.

“It’s not our job to censure somebody because we don’t agree with them,” he said. “Let the Ethics Committee look at it. Let others look at it, but I will not be voting for a motion to censure unless it’s very serious conduct.”

It is rare for a member of Congress to be censured, which amounts to a public reprimand one step below expulsion. Before June, the House had censured members just 24 times in the chamber’s history. But censure resolutions increasingly have been used in recent months to trade criticism and partisan blame across the aisle.

In its first week of considering legislative business after a month of paralysis because of the chaotic speaker’s race, the House considered two censure resolutions back-to-back. Since then, at least three more censure resolutions have been introduced.

The measures are privileged under House rules, meaning that they take precedence over other legislative business and are not subject to the discretion of congressional leaders.

Karoun Demirjian contributed reporting.

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