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House members want Lauren Boebert removed from assignments over Islamophobic comments

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Around Thanksgiving, a video of conservative Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert went viral. In it, she described Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, a Muslim, as a terrorist. Now, some Democratic Congress members want Boebert to be removed from her committee assignments. Colorado Public Radio's Caitlyn Kim reports.

CAITLYN KIM, BYLINE: The dean of the Colorado delegation, Democratic Representative Diana DeGette, has publicly condemned Lauren Boebert's Islamophobic comments, describing them as hateful. But when it comes to holding the conservative firebrand accountable...

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DIANA DEGETTE: I think it's Kevin McCarthy's job as the Republican leader to decide what he's going to do about this behavior from Congresswoman Boebert.

KIM: Some Republicans have denounced Boebert's rhetoric, but McCarthy has not acted against her, arguing that Boebert has apologized. Frustrated progressives in the House last week introduced a resolution to remove Boebert from her committee assignments.

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AYANNA PRESSLEY: This is about accountability.

KIM: That's Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley, who introduced the measure.

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PRESSLEY: This is about protecting the integrity of the House of Representatives and about living up to the very values that we espouse and claim to represent.

KIM: More than three dozen Democrats have signed on to the measure, including DeGette. Meanwhile, Boebert has been uncharacteristically quiet about the resolution. She did say in a statement the day it was introduced that she's aware, quote, "some people did something." Colorado's other Republican Congress members, including Ken Buck, oppose the idea.

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KEN BUCK: There have been inappropriate actions on both sides, and this is a one-sided remedy. And I don't like it.

KIM: This year, Democrats have already removed two Republicans from committees due to their comments and actions. Still, Republicans continue to argue it's up to them to handle their members. Boebert's office did not make her available for this story. An early attempt by Boebert to quell the controversy just added fuel to it. Here's her description of the telephone call she had with Minnesota's Omar.

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LAUREN BOEBERT: She kept asking for a public apology. So I told Ilhan Omar that she should make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric.

KIM: Now, Omar made anti-Semitic comments in 2019 that her Democratic colleagues called her out on. She apologized, and they did not remove her from her committees. Omar says whenever her Republican colleagues speak about her like this, the threats against her increase. She played one recent example to the press.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You [expletive] Muslim piece of [expletive], you jihadist. We know what you are. You're a [expletive] traitor. You will not live much longer [expletive].

KIM: Boebert has also received about 20 death threats since Thanksgiving, according to a spokesman. Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz says this type of rhetoric and the violence it can lead to is the reason they are pushing for punishing Boebert - to send a message.

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DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No matter how much money she might raise off of it or, you know, beat her chest over, you know, how much attention she is getting, there's no way that any member wants to be deprived of their ability to serve on committees and make policy. That's generally why we all come here.

KIM: While Democratic leaders decide what to do, Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, also a Democrat and a Muslim, has filed an ethics complaint against Boebert over her comments. Omar herself might provide the example of a middle ground leaders could seek. After Omar's controversial comments, the House passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. On Tuesday, the House passed a bill to combat Islamophobia internationally. It's sponsored by Representative Ilhan Omar.

For NPR News, I'm Caitlyn Kim in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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