Biden admin, House GOP scrutinize Ilhan Omar's Islamophobia bill

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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is pushing a controversial Islamophobia bill, but not everyone – including the Biden administration – seems completely onboard with the proposal.

The Combating International Islamophobia Act directs the State Department to create a special envoy and office on the issue. Under the bill, those entities would monitor and combat Islamophobia around the world.  

Additionally, the legislation would update current law regarding how the department reports on human rights and international religious liberty.

In this April 20, 2021 photo Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

According to a House aide, the State Department sent congressional staff a series of concerns it had with Omar’s bill.

“While we share the sentiments of the bill, in order to preserve the Secretary’s flexibility to manage the Department, revisions would be appropriate to make mandates and prescriptive provisions into permissive authorities, such that the Secretary would be authorized to set up the office and envoy,” the department said in a message last week.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a photo opportunity on Nov. 8, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool).

“Similarly, the longstanding preference is not to amend the human rights annual report authority to add in specific topics, as reporting would capture such activities already, and the specification of narrow reporting topics can give the impression of a less than comprehensive scope. It would seem in keeping with the timeliness of the topic, to instead provide for an annual report on the specific topic for a stated period of time, such as [three] years.  We note that in several places the bill refers to the ‘right to religious freedom’ which is formulated under international law as ‘the right to freedom of religion or belief.’”  

The House Foreign Affairs committee approved the legislation along party lines last week and encountered fierce opposition from Republicans. The bill is expected to reach the House floor for consideration on Tuesday.

Mitch Hailstone, communications director for the Republican Study Committee, argued on Tuesday that multiple State Department positions were already tasked with combating anti-Muslim bigotry.

In addition, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told Fox News Tuesday, “The U.S. State Department has requested multiple, substantive changes to this legislation before the House passes it.”

“One of their requested changes is to not mandate the creation of the Special Envoy. This indicates the State Department has fundamental concerns with even establishing this office.” 

Omar’s office and the State Department did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

On Tuesday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) expressed support for the bill, but indicated it sought additional flexibility on creating the special envoy and office provided under the bill.

OMB’s statement read: “The Administration supports passage of H.R. 5665, the Combating International Islamophobia Act. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. This freedom is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is also part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

“The Administration looks forward to working with Congress to ensure the Secretary of State has the necessary flexibility and permissive authority to designate such an office and special envoy and to provide for an annual report monitoring concerning acts of Islamophobia in foreign countries.”

The White House and OMB did not immediately respond to Fox News’ requests for clarification on where the administration now stands on the bill.

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