Politics

Nancy Pelosi to address AIPAC Tuesday

Speech comes amid fight over Israel policy

(CNN) - Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's speech before the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference Tuesday comes at a consequential moment for House Democrats as they continue to struggle in the wake of a bitter internal feud over Israel that is dividing the party as Republicans attempt to paint them as "anti-Israel."

The annual gathering in Washington -- going on since Sunday -- is typically an opportunity for members of Congress to show their support for Israel, but the caucus this year has been checkered with fallout from freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar's controversial comments about Israel and AIPAC itself.

Pelosi -- as leader of the House Democrats -- has a chance to potentially reset and turn the page on this politically charged moment for Democrats with her speech before the conference, though she's not the first member of her caucus to address this year's gathering.

Rep. Steny Hoyer -- the number two Democrat in the House -- took a veiled jab during his speech at Omar's controversial comments from last month that criticized political influences that "push for allegiance to a foreign country."

"When someone accuses American supporters of dual loyalty, I say: accuse me," said the House Majority Leader, who is not Jewish but a big proponent of Israel, to applause in the room. "I am a part of a large, bipartisan coalition in Congress supporting Israel, an overwhelming majority in the Congress of the United States. I tell Israel's accusers and detractors: accuse me."

On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence, also called out Omar's comments, chastising her without mentioning her by name and calling for her to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"Recently, a freshman Democrat in Congress trafficked, and repeated anti-Semitic tropes, alleged congressional support for Israel reflected an allegiance to a foreign country," Pence said Monday during his speech at AIPAC. "Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress of the United States of America. And at a minimum anyone who slanders those who support this historic alliance between the United States and Israel should never have a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives."

Omar faced backlash from many members of her own party over comments she made in February at a Washington book store where, in reference to Israel, she said "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." Critics of the remark said the comment evoked anti-Semitic tropes and Republicans called for Omar to lose her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. While Omar kept her position, the House in response passed a resolution condemning hate and intolerance, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination.

President Donald Trump, too, has been attempting to capitalize on the Democratic internal strife, on Friday telling reporters in Washington that he believes the Democrats are "anti-Israel" and "anti-Jewish."

"The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel," Trump told reporters Friday. "It's a disgrace. I mean, I don't know what's happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they're anti-Jewish."

Pelosi has attempted to manage this internal feud from boiling over before. Earlier this month, during a private discussion within the caucus on the anti-discrimination resolution, Pelosi addressed "internal issues" their party was having.

"So, we have some internal issues and we have tried to increase communication among each other -- at large, individually, in smaller groups and the rest of that -- to have a clearer understanding of what our purpose is as a caucus, how we proceed," Pelosi said according to a Democratic aide to the House caucus. "But I do think it's very important, as an overriding -- the best advice I ever received when I came here those years ago was: don't question the motivations of our colleagues. You can disagree wholeheartedly, but do not question their patriotism or their loyalty to our country in any way. And that holds for the Republicans as well."

This week the House could vote on a resolution, introduced late last week, from a small, bipartisan group of House members that condemns the boycott-Israel movement and reaffirms the commitment to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The resolution outlines clear opposition to the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement -- shorthandedly referred to as the BDS movement -- which, in its own words, "works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law."

A floor vote on the resolution has not yet been scheduled, although Hoyer said over the weekend he will push for the resolution to put members on the record on the issue.

A vote would almost certainly become another flashpoint for Democrats, as the BDS movement has supporters in the caucus, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress. For her part, Omar has expressed support for the movement, but she has also vocalized concerns about its effectiveness.

House Democrats will huddle on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning for their weekly caucus meeting, where this could be one of the topics of debate.


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