The Note: Democratic unity frays over anti-Semitism and Israel

The issue driving them apart on Capitol Hill has been a long time coming.

March 7, 2019, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

Even the feel-good sense around investigating President Donald Trump couldn't keep Democrats united this week.

The issue driving them apart, on Capitol Hill and now in the 2020 race, has been a long time coming. Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar's comment suggesting that supporters of Israel have "allegiance to a foreign country," ignited long-simmering tensions inside the party over how critiques of Israel and U.S.-Israeli policy overlap with anti-Semitism.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried but failed to keep those tensions from bubbling over, in part by delaying any votes of condemnation. Now, 2020 candidates are getting involved, too.

"We must not ... equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. "What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That's wrong."

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said, "There is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism," adding that she fears criticism of Omar "may put her at risk."

The Republican Party's glee over this issue conveniently omits the GOP's own troubles with anti-Semitism, and it ignores some of the president's own remarks after the Charlottesville, Virginia, riots in particular.

But, as Sanders and Harris are making clear, this won't disappear as an issue for Democrats just because anti-Semitism is an ongoing issue for Republicans as well.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

Advocacy legislation, introduced by presidential candidates and prospective presidential candidates, is providing campaign rallying points and a glimpse into which issues these senators may prioritize, should they make it to the White House.

PHOTO: Sen. Cory Booker speaks at his "Conversation with Cory" campaign event at the Nevada Partners Event Center, Feb. 24, 2019, in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Sen. Cory Booker speaks at his "Conversation with Cory" campaign event at the Nevada Partners Event Center, Feb. 24, 2019, in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

For example, Thursday, Sen. Cory Booker will introduce a criminal justice reform plan, which includes, in part, plans to reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses, prohibit federal employers and contractors from asking a job applicant about their criminal history at the start of a hiring process and create a pathway for sealing and -- in some cases -- expunging records of nonviolent drug offenders.

Last week, Booker led a charge in the Senate to introduce legislation that would federally legalize marijuana. On Wednesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, reintroduced the "Debt-Free College Act," with Sens. Harris, Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., among the original co-sponsors. The act would provide dollar-for-dollar federal matches to state higher education appropriations "in exchange for a commitment to help students pay for the full cost of attendance without having to take on debt."

These bills can also put pressure on colleagues, including those not running for higher office, and -- as seen this week with the Green New Deal resolution -- open up the possibility that Republicans will want to force senators to vote on each new idea presented.

The TIP with John Verhovek

The Democratic National Committee's decision to deny Fox News a slot to host a Democratic presidential primary debate this cycle may seem like an obvious decision, given the widespread belief among party faithful that the network is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Trump administration.

PHOTO: Tom Perez listens during a Bloomberg Television interview in N.Y., Jan. 31, 2018.
Tom Perez listens during a Bloomberg Television interview in N.Y., Jan. 31, 2018.
Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

But as Democrats ponder the best way to reach beyond their base, a number of their top presidential candidates have appeared on the network in an effort to get their message out to voters who have soured on the party. It raises the question of whether they believe DNC Chairman Tom Perez made the right move. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Gillibrand have each recently appeared on the network for interviews, and former Rep. John Delaney, who is running as a moderate Democrat, has pushed back on the decision.

"As a matter of politics, Democratic candidates should campaign everywhere and that includes talking to voters who watch Fox News," Delaney wrote in a statement provided to ABC News.


ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News' Stephanie Ramos and Elizabeth McLaughlin, who tell us why Sen. Martha McSally's admission that she was sexually assaulted while serving in the Air Force was significant. Then, ABC News' Benjamin Siegel explains why House Democrats are split on a potential anti-Semitism measure.


  • President Donald Trump meets with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at 11 a.m. in the Oval Office. Trump then has lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 12:30 p.m. After lunch, he meets and participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, beginning at 1:55 p.m. At 4 p.m. he meets with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan in the Oval Office. Trump participates in a photo op with the 2019 Senate Youth Program at 5 p.m. in the East Room.
  • Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, faces the first of two sentencing hearings in Alexandria, Virginia.
  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee holds a hearing on the "Trump Administration's Response to the Drug Crisis" at 10 a.m. in Washington.
  • Presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, along with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, introduce two bipartisan marijuana bills at 11 a.m. on Capitol Hill.
  • The House Foreign Affairs Committee convenes to provide an update on "The Status of American Hostages in Iran" at 1:30 p.m. in Washington.
  • Howard Schultz, former Starbucks CEO and author of "From The Ground Up: A Journey To Reimagine The Promise Of America" attends a military and veterans town hall at 6 p.m. local time in San Antonio, Texas.
  • Democratic presidential candidate and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appears at a hometown send-off event at 5 p.m. MST in Denver.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., holds a rally at 6:30 p.m. CST in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
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