MSNBC: Dems Don’t Want to ‘Pile On’ Omar, Want ‘Distraction’ to ‘Go Away’

Reporting from Capitol Hill late Wednesday morning on MSNBC Live With Craig Melvin, correspondent Garrett Haake fretted that “Democrats are in a jam” as they debated an anti-Semitism resolution meant to response to offensive comments from Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar. The reporter noted that liberal lawmakers didn’t want to “pile on one freshman Congresswoman” and were eager for the “distraction” to “go away.”

“The controversy has brought focus to a deep divide, perhaps even a growing divide within the Democratic majority,” anchor Craig Melvin noted at the top of the segment. He then quoted spin from The New York Times claiming that the topic “has touched off a furious debate between older House Democrats and their young liberal colleagues over whether Representative Ilhan Omar is being singled out for unfair treatment over her statements on Israel.”

 

 

“Well, the bottom line here, Craig, is Democrats are in a jam,” Haake worried from the halls of Congress. He explained the dilemma: “They’re not sure exactly how they want to deal with this issue....If they’re going to condemn Republicans for saying things that they don’t think are appropriate, they feel like they have to condemn Democrats, too.”

Haake then touted “the push-back from Congresswoman Omar,” describing her asking the question, “Is it not allowable to criticize Israel in any way without it being called anti-Semitic?” He added: “She argues that she is talking about Israeli policies – not the Jewish people, American Jews, not the Jewish religion – and is that not a fair source of criticism?”

The reporter sympathized with Democrats not wanting to “pile on” their colleague by condemning anti-Semitism: “Furthermore, she has been the target of some anti-Muslim attacks from outside folks as well and there’s this general feeling of how hard do you want to, you know, pile on one freshman Congresswoman?”

“Democrats are looking for a Goldilocks option here to condemn what she has said without feeling like they’ve gone too far,” Haake observed.

After playing soundbites of House Democrats wrestling with the issue, he warned:

Republicans are trying to make a big issue out of this. They’re trying to keep the spotlight on this. Congresswoman Omar is one of those young rising stars within the party. You’ve got this split that’s becoming apparent between younger Democrats and older Democrats on the issue of what Congresswoman Omar said. I don’t think there’s a split on the issue of saying anti-Semitism is a bad thing. But you know, Nancy Pelosi says all the time this idea that among Democrats their unity is their strength. And if they are not unified on this issue, it’s just another distraction from the things they’re trying to do in the House. Democrats would like very much for this issue to go away.

Following Haake’s report, Melvin brought on MSNBC Republican Bill Kristol and liberal Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart to discuss the controversy. The anchor lamented: “Most families do their fighting in private, behind closed doors, maybe even over a dinner table. Why this spat – how has it become so public?”

Capehart managed to jab the GOP in his response: “...it’s difficult for Democrats to try to hold Republicans accountable for myriad sort of rhetorical abuses that skirt over the line of racism when you have a potential instance within – within your own caucus. And so that’s why we’re seeing this play out in public.”

Highlighting the Democratic division over Omar, Melvin engaged in some more hand-wringing: “It’s been said in the past that the Democratic Party excels at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Bill Kristol. Is the party once again shooting itself in the foot here?”

Kristol first corrected the record on what Omar actually said: “I don’t approve of Representative Omar’s sentiments. And incidently, it’s not true that she simply discussed Israel. She explicitly discussed American Jews.” He then replied to Melvin’s initial question and explained the obvious reason why the Democrats’ intra-party scuffle was playing out in public: “The reason this is a public fight, your original question, is because she publicly made these comments. If she has her – you know, she didn’t have to go out of her way to attack American Jews and talk about how they control so much money and so forth in politics.”

Going further, Kristol sounded the alarm that Democrats were very concerned about the potential political impact: “I ran into a leading Democratic strategist and talked to him. He’s a little more concerned than I expected. He thinks this stuff is penetrating a little bit, both the anti-Semitism and the support for the Green New Deal....it looks out of the mainstream, I think, to a lot of swing voters...”

Seeming to forget what the entire segment was about, Melvin appeared shocked by the news: “Bill, this strategist that you talked to, he’s concerned about an anti-Semitic strain inside the Democratic Party?” Kristol confirmed: “He’s concerned that it both exists and that voters will see that it might exist.”

Kristol even pointed out how his fellow anti-Trump Republicans “who would be very open to voting for most Democrats against Trump in 2020” were “now more alarmed than they were two or three months ago by the Democratic Party and where it’s going.” He concluded: “I think it’s penetrated and done a little more damage than I would have expected.”

Perhaps that political damage is why MSNBC is trying to downplay and deflect from the Democratic scandal.  

Here is a transcript of the March 6 exchange:

11:25 AM ET

CRAIG MELVIN: A House vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism has now been delayed. That resolution is an indirect rebuke of comments made by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. It’s likely to happen tomorrow. Could include language rejecting anti-Muslim speech as well.

The controversy has brought focus to a deep divide, perhaps even a growing divide within the Democratic majority. The New York Times reporting the issue “has touched off a furious debate between older House Democrats and their young liberal colleagues over whether Representative Ilhan Omar is being singled out for unfair treatment over her statements on Israel.” Among those younger members, New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in a series of tweets and comments has defended Congresswoman Omar.

MSNBC’s Garret Haake is on Capitol Hill this morning. First of all, Garrett, why the delay on the vote?

GARRETT HAAKE: Well, the bottom line here, Craig, is Democrats are in a jam. They’re not sure exactly how they want to deal with this issue. Democratic leadership, in particular, are upset with the comments Congresswoman Omar has made. This is not the first time she’s made comments that have been perceived as anti-Semitic. And they feel like they have to do something, they have to send a message, they have to stand on the principles that they believe they have. If they’re going to condemn Republicans for saying things that they don’t think are appropriate, they feel like they have to condemn Democrats, too.

But on the other end of the thing is the push-back from Congresswoman Omar saying, “Is it not allowable to criticize Israel in any way without it being called anti-Semitic?” She argues that she is talking about Israeli policies – not the Jewish people, American Jews, not the Jewish religion –  and is that not a fair source of criticism?

Furthermore, she has been the target of some anti-Muslim attacks from outside folks as well and there’s this general feeling of how hard do you want to, you know, pile on one freshman Congresswoman?

Democrats are looking for a Goldilocks option here to condemn what she has said without feeling like they’ve gone too far. And you can hear it from some of the Democrats we spoke to this morning as they try to weigh this out.

(...)

HAAKE: And Craig, look, there’s some realpolitik here, too. Republicans are trying to make a big issue out of this. They’re trying to keep the spotlight on this. Congresswoman Omar is one of those young rising stars within the party. You’ve got this split that’s becoming apparent between younger Democrats and older Democrats on the issue of what Congresswoman Omar said. I don’t think there’s a split on the issue of saying anti-Semitism is a bad thing. But you know, Nancy Pelosi says all the time this idea that among Democrats their unity is their strength. And if they are not unified on this issue, it’s just another distraction from the things they’re trying to do in the House. Democrats would like very much for this issue to go away.

MELVIN: Alright, Garret Haake for us there on the Hill. Garrett, thank you.

Let’s turn to Bill Kristol now, director of Defending Democracy Together, and Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer at the Washington Post, he is also an MSNBC contributor. Jonathan, I’ll start with you. Most families do their fighting in private, behind closed doors, maybe even over a dinner table. Why this spat – how has it become so public?

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Well, because that’s the age we’re in, Craig. That’s why it’s become so public. And also, I think Garrett brought this up in his report just now, that it’s difficult for Democrats to try to hold Republicans accountable for myriad sort of rhetorical abuses that skirt over the line of racism when you have a potential instance within – within your own caucus. And so that’s why we’re seeing this play out in public.

But one thing to keep in mind, we’re all focused on Congresswoman Omar, one member of the Democratic caucus. When even as the president of J Street, you know, Jeremy Ben-Ami, points out that while we’re all focused on Congresswoman Omar, we have to keep in mind that the Democratic caucus is unified and focused on doing the right thing when it comes to either policies related to Israel, but also being on the right side of not crossing the line into anti-Semitism.

And when it comes to Congresswoman Omar, I think one of the things we’re also seeing is that there’s a transition that has to happen and is taking place in public when someone goes from being an activist on the outside of the halls of power who moves into inside the halls of power. And that there are different ways of being and different ways of doing. And I do think that the Congresswoman is learning and getting an education on how to do things and how to say things.

MELVIN: Bill, Politico Playbook this morning reporting that, “The divisions among Democrats are only getting deeper and more public. This congress is only 62 days old and, presumably by the end of the week, it will have taken two votes aimed at condemning the words of a member of the majority. Furthermore, Democrats seem to be heading for an extended discussion about America’s support for Israel – something that will certainly split their caucus.” Again, that coming from Politico. It’s been said in the past that the Democratic Party excels at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Bill Kristol. Is the party once again shooting itself in the foot here?

BILL KRISTOL: I mean normally – I don’t approve of Representative Omar’s sentiments. And incidently, it’s not true that she simply discussed Israel. She explicitly discussed American Jews. So I think it’s very fair – and she did so publicly. The reason this is a public fight, your original question, is because she publicly made these comments. If she has her – you know, she didn’t have to go out of her way to attack American Jews and talk about how they control so much money and so forth in politics. But having said that, they’ll have to figure – Democrats will have to have their debates internally, in private and public.

I guess I would normally dismiss this, though, as a political matter. This is March, and we’re months away from, you know, anything happening, a year away from primaries almost. And, you know, a lot of this stuff just blows over. But I ran into – two things – I ran into a leading Democratic strategist and talked to him. He’s a little more concerned than I expected. He thinks this stuff is penetrating a little bit, both the anti-Semitism and the support for the Green New Deal, which so many of the presidential candidates rushed to support, even though it’s only a few pages on paper and there is no actual legislation. But it looks out of the mainstream, I think, to a lot of swing voters and maybe –

MELVIN: Bill, this strategist that you talked to, he’s concerned about an anti-Semitic strain inside the Democratic Party?

KRISTOL: He’s concerned that it both exists and that voters will see that it might exist. And that it can then pressure – and look, the question is how much pressure, as we saw with the Green New Deal, does it pressure more prominent Democrats, presidential candidates, people who aren’t just freshmen members of Congress, to say things or take positions that will hurt them politically. I don’t think it will in the case of Israel. I think most of the presidential candidates are pretty pro-Israel on the Democratic side.

But I think more broadly, I guess I was in Arizona last week, I live in Virginia, I was talking to people in California, these were all people – people I was hanging out with tend to sort of be anti-Trump Republicans. So these are people who swung mostly to vote Democratic in 2018. The kinds of voters you want to have in 2020. And they are more alarmed than I realized. I think – I had sort of thought maybe this was just an inside-the-Beltway thing or, you know, a cable news, with all due respect to cable news, a cable news thing, and not penetrating. But I was struck when I was in California that people were sort of, people I know who would be very open to voting for most Democrats against Trump in 2020, now more alarmed than they were two or three months ago by the Democratic Party and where it’s going.

Now, maybe that’s inevitable, maybe it washes over. Everything depends on who the nominee is, obviously. At the end of the day, this isn’t a collective judgment. It’s usually a judgment about one presidential candidate, whoever gets the nomination. But I think it’s penetrated and done a little more damage than I would have expected.

(...)

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