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Dems who censured Rep. Tlaib over Palestine comments largely silent on GOP Rep's call for nukes

It's telling who does—and does not—get the benefit of the doubt

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This post was updated at 9:12AM to reflect a new response from Congressman Brad Schneider of Illinois.

As soon as I heard that Republican Congressman Tim Walberg was recorded at a town hall last week saying that, "we shouldn’t be spending a dime on humanitarian aid” in Gaza and, "it should be like Nagasaki and Hiroshima," I thought immediately of his Democratic colleague and fellow Michigander, Rashida Tlaib. “Get it over quick,” the former pastor added to his call to arms.

Back in November, 22 House Democrats voted to censure their colleague Congresswoman Tlaib for comments she made on the war in Israel and Palestine. Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, was censured for supposedly “promoting false narratives” the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack and “calling for the destruction of the state of Israel” by using the phrase “from the river to the sea.”

The censure, in my humble opinion, was bullshit, and at the time I emailed my Congressman—Rep. Dan Goldman, one of the Dems who voted in favor of it—to say so. The vote to censure, which took place exactly one month after the war in Israel/Palestine began, has continued to stick in my craw—especially as the carnage in Gaza rages on with our government’s approval.

After my thoughts went to Tlaib and how she must have felt hearing one of her colleagues implying the US should nuke her parents’ country of origin (where she still has family), I thought about the 22 Democrats. They were so willing to lend the credibility of their office to a bad-faith Republican-led attack to demonstrate their unwavering support for Israel. But it came at an enormous cost; the cost of their own party member’s mental health and physical safety. 

I reached out to spokespeople for all 22 Democrats Monday morning with a simple inquiry: I wanted to know if they planned to make a statement or take any sort of action—like a censure—against Rep. Walberg for his call for the destruction of Gaza.

Only three offices responded. 

“Deranged and depraved,” Rep. Ritchie Torres of New York said through his press secretary, which was surprising given Torres’ aggressive and unapologetic support for Israel. (He’s literally in Israel right now.) I followed up, pointing out Torres’ vote to censure Tlaib and asking if he thought Rep. Walberg's comments were on the same level. His press secretary said yes. When I pressed further, asking if Torres planned to call for a vote to censure, I received no reply. 

Another reply was from Rep. Greg Landsman of Ohio’s office, who pointed me to his tweets on the matter (which were posted 43 minutes after my initial email to his office) and also said that if the vote were in front of him, he would vote to censure Walberg. “None of this helps us end the war and get the hostages home,” he added.

And one last reply came early Tuesday morning from Congressman Brad Schneider of Illinois. He said, in part:

“Congressman Walberg’s unfortunate and dangerous remarks neither make us more secure nor move Israel and the Palestinians closer to peace. I do appreciate the Congressman walking back his words…while I appreciate my colleague’s commitment to the US - Israel relationship, and to ensuring Israel’s safety and security as the only democracy in the Middle East, I reject his cavalier use of the specter of nuclear weapons.”

“This is a critical time to support our ally Israel as it works to rescue its hostages, get aid into Gaza, and ensure that Hamas can never repeat the barbaric attacks of October 7. Misguided and ill-considered calls for use of nuclear weapons, or prohibitions on humanitarian relief, are not only dangerous, they are likely to extend the war and put both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as Americans, at much greater risks ”

When asked if he’d support a vote to censure Walberg, Schneider said: We need to stop talking about censures and focus on governing.”

(To be clear, I don’t see Tlaib and Walberg’s comments as at all equivalent. Tlaib was defending her family’s homeland while Walberg was calling for nuclear war. But since the Democrats who voted to censure her disagreed with my assessment, I needed to present them as comparable.)

A spokesperson for Rep. Goldman initially replied but did not follow through with comment. 

Walberg posted a statement to Twitter Sunday evening writing that he stood by his comments and that they were misunderstood because the video clip removed the context. So far, he’s being given space for understanding and grace where Tlaib was not.

“No one deserves to be told what they mean,” Rep. Cori Bush, a close ally of Tlaib, said in an interview after witnessing their colleagues distort Tlaib’s words during the censure vote.

At the time, Walberg defended his vote to censure, writing in a statement that he “defended her constitutional right to free speech” but believed a video she posted “calls for violence.” 

“Despite her claim, this phrase [from the river to the sea] is not an aspirational call for peaceful coexistence, especially as it was shown shortly after another slogan, ‘no peace on stolen land,’” he continued. “While I will continue to defend First Amendment liberties for those I disagree with, I will not support the right to call for a violent genocide.”

And yet here we are, nearly five months later, being asked by Walberg to believe that what he said wasn’t a call for violent genocide. Based on the response rate to my inquiry, there appears to be little political will to make him explain himself. 

It’s always telling to see who gets punished and who is given the benefit of the doubt; who is and isn’t seen as a useful political cudgel. Going after Tlaib gave Democrats an opportunity to shore up their pro-Israel bonafides. But what could be gained by demanding the same treatment of Walberg? The answer, it seems, is nothing. And so silence largely reigns. 

I asked Tlaib’s office if she had any response to what Walberg said and if she’d support a vote to censure him. Her spokesperson directed me to comments she made Saturday to the Detroit Free Press, but did not address whether or not she’d vote to censure.

“It’s disgusting and disgraceful that anyone, let alone a U.S. congressperson, would call for the genocide of Palestinians with nuclear weapons," she told the paper. "Rep. Walberg is not the first member of Congress to use despicable, violent, dehumanizing language to describe their genocidal intent in Gaza and will not be the last. This kind of anti-Palestinian — and anti-Asian —hate must be defeated.”

But it can’t possibly be defeated when those who claim to be our fiercest defenders of democracy choose to do nothing. 

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