House Majority Leader Walks Back Jabs at Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Rep. Steny Hoyer said his sarcastic comment at AIPAC, 'there are 62 freshman Democrats' and 'not three,' is aimed at the media, not the new representatives

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md. at the U.S. Capitol Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 25, 2019
Andrew Harnik / AP

The House majority leader “clarified” remarks that were seen as jabs at first-year Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in his address Sunday to the AIPAC policy conference appeared to criticize Omar, D-Minn., who has complained of pressure to pledge “allegiance” to Israel; Tlaib, D-Mich., a Palestinian American who backs ending assistance to Israel and plans to lead a lawmakers’ tour of the West Bank to rival the one Hoyer leads to Israel every year with the assistance of an affiliate of AIPAC; and Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has defended Tlaib and Omar.

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“This August, I will lead what I expect to be the largest delegation ever” to Israel, Hoyer said. “There are 62 freshman Democrats,” he said and cocked his ear. “You hear me? Sixty-two — not three.”

In a statement Monday, Hoyer said his sarcasm was aimed at the media, not the congresswomen.

“In pointing out that much of the press attention has been on a few new Members in particular, I was lamenting that the media does not appear to be paying enough attention to other excellent new members who are also bringing important new energy and diverse perspectives to our Caucus and to the Congress,” Hoyer said. “I am proud and excited to serve with all of our new Democratic members, who reflect the diversity of our country better than any freshman class in our history.”

Omar, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez have been earned grassroots admiration among liberals and Democrats for bringing diversity and outspokenness to the caucus. Ocasio-Cortez is pushing for radical environmental reforms, Tlaib wants to impeach President Donald Trump and Omar has taken a lead role in questioning Trump administration policy in Venezuela.

Omar, who arrived in the United States as a Somali refugee, has been criticized over remarks that have been seen as anti-Semitic. She has apologized for some of those remarks.