Moran steps down from leadership post
Lawmaker under fire for saying Jews push war with Iraq
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Harshly criticized for saying pressure from the Jewish community was driving the push toward a possible war against Iraq, Rep. James Moran stepped down Friday as a House Democratic regional whip.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California issued a statement indicating she left Moran, D-Virginia, with little choice but to give up his leadership post.
"I have taken this action because Congressman Moran's irresponsible remarks were a serious mistake," Pelosi said in a statement. "As I said earlier this week, his comments were not only inappropriate, they were offensive and have no place in the Democratic Party."
Moran has been under fire since March 3, when he said at an antiwar forum that Jewish leaders were pushing a war with Iraq.
"If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this," he said at the forum in Reston, Virginia. "The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going and I think they should."
The comments drew condemnation from the White House, Jewish leaders, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
He has since apologized repeatedly for the remarks, saying he should not have singled out any one group.
"What I was trying to say is that if more organizations in this country, including religious groups, were more outspoken against a war, then I do not think we would be pursuing war as an option," he said in a statement posted on his congressional Web site.
But his initial apologies did little to assuage anger over the comments, and the loss of his leadership post reflects pressure that Democrats have been under to take some steps against Moran.
"I stepped down from my leadership position today as a way to demonstrate acceptance of my responsibility for insensitive remarks I recently made," Moran said in a statement Friday. "I will continue to reach out to the Jewish community and others who were offended by my remarks."
The controversy over Moran's remarks has been compared by some to the firestorm generated when Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi appeared to express nostalgia for segregation during a December birthday party for former Sen. Strom Thurmond. Under pressure, Lott stepped down as Senate majority leader, but he remains in the Senate.
On Wednesday, a number of Jewish House Democrats urged Moran not to seek re-election in the wake of his comments. In Virginia, several local Democrats have already expressed interest in challenging Moran for re-election.
The leader of the Jewish Community Council of Washington said Moran should consider resigning. Moran, 57, has said he will not give up his seat.
"I will strive to learn from my mistakes and listen to the concerns of my constituents," Moran said in his statement Friday.
The Anti-Defamation League was also among those that condemned Moran's comments.
"This is one voice in the chorus spreading a new lie, the age-old anti-Semitic canard that when our country faces danger, Jews are responsible," it said.
"As we move closer to an invasion with Iraq, the drumbeat of 'blame the Jews' -- meaning Jews in the administration, the 'Jewish lobby' and the Jewish community -- is intensifying and multiplying.
"Congressman Moran's remarks are symptomatic of a more serious problem -- that in times of crisis and anxiety, Jews continue to be a convenient and tempting option for scapegoating."