Voices: The House’s Rashida Tlaib censure vote is theater pretending to help Israel

Late on Tuesday evening, while most political junkies were watching the elections in Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi and Ohio, the House of Representatives hosted a late-night vote to censure Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), ostensibly for her criticisms of Israel.

Censureship has historically been a rare tool in Congress, often when Congress finds the conduct of a member to be unbecoming. The goal of these votes is not to formally exact consequences of a member but to simply make a member feel bad and publicly shame them.

Incidentally, though, the resolution did not require Ms Tlaib to stand in the well of the House floor, which is usually the case with censure votes. Similarly, the fact the vote happened in the dead of night shows that Republicans – and the 22 Democrats who voted with them – did not want to make their actions the news of the day.

That’s largely because of the fact that the efforts to censure Ms Tlaib, the sole Palestinian American congresswoman and the first of two Muslim female members elected to Congress, was not about actually doing something to solve the current crisis in Israel. Rather, the censureship was meant to settle grudges unrelated to the current crisis while cloaking it in support for Israel.

To be clear, some Jewish Americans indeed find Ms Tlaib’s invocation of the term “from the River to the Sea” to be antisemitic. This explains why some Jewish Democrats like Reps Kathy Manning of North Carolina, Daniel Goldman of New York, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, and Florida Democrats Lois Frankel, Jared Moskowitz and Debbie Wasserman Schultz voted to censure Ms Tlaib.

At the same time, Jewish Democrats like Rep Jerry Nadler of New York and Adam Schiff of California opposed the censure. Maryland Rep Jamie Raskin, who represents the heavily Jewish Washington, DC suburbs, offered the most vociferous opposition to her censure. Similarly, Rep Sara Jacobs (D-CA), who is also Jewish, proposed to censure Rep Brian Mast (R-FL) who equated Palestinian civilians killed in Israel’s war with citizens of Nazi Germany.

But if Republicans were serious about punishing Ms Tlaib and genuinely believed she was an antisemite, they would have gone an extra step and stripped her of committees in the same way that Democrats did to Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) for her racist and antisemitic remarks at the beginning of the last Congress.

If Republicans legitimately believed she were a bigot who endangered the well-being of the Jewish people in the United States or in Israel, they would have delayed the censure vote until Wednesday afternoon so it would be broadcast on all channels, rather than have it be done when they knew it would be drowned out by other news.

But Republicans are not serious about providing aid to Israel and they have shown it time and again. Had they cared about helping Israel, the House GOP conference would have quickly coalesced around a new candidate for speaker after the 7 October attack. Instead, they dragged out the fight for speaker for 15 more days.

If Republicans wanted to actually help Israel, then they also would have passed a serious aid package to assist it. Instead, they passed a farcical piece of legislation that would have gutted the IRS enforcement aspect of President Joe Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act that they knew Democrats in the Senate would oppose and Mr Biden would immediately veto.

Many Democrats, including many in Ms Tlaib’s home state of Michigan which has a healthy Muslim population, condemned her remarks, specifically using the phrase “From the River to the Sea,” which some believe calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. But tellingly, no Michigan Democrat voted to censure her.

Rather, the vote was an exercise in sophistry. Republicans chose to hold a vote to make themselves look like they supported Israel while not doing anything that actually substantively supported Israel.

Much like the failed vote last week to expel disgraced Rep George Santos (R-NY), this was about making Republicans look serious after their tragicomic three-week speaker debacle without doing the legitimate work of governing.

Sadly, this is how the House Republican conference will likely continue to govern. You already see this with Speaker Mike Johnson’s attempt to pass a “laddered” continued resolution, a phrase so unserious that your Capitol reporter will not insult readers’ intelligence by bothering to explain it.

The House GOP is focused more on cockamamie plans to please its most rabid supporters than it is failing to do the actual work of governing.

Tellingly, friend of the Inside Washington newsletter Jake Sherman at Punchbowl News flagged that amid all the hoopla, the House Republican leadership pulled the funding bill for highways, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development late on Tuesday evening, a sign that Mr Johnson did not have the votes. Did I mention the government shuts down in nine days?