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Rashida Tlaib holds 'frank' discussion with GOP critics on the House floor

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib approached two of her fiercest GOP critics on the House floor Wednesday, an eye-catching moment amid a tense debate between the two parties over Tlaib's recent comments about the Holocaust.

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Ashley Killough
Sunlen Serfaty, CNN
CNN — Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib approached two of her fiercest GOP critics on the House floor Wednesday, an eye-catching moment amid a tense debate between the two parties over Tlaib's recent comments about the Holocaust.

In the unexpected encounter, Tlaib walked up to Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House, and GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, during a vote series.

Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, shook their hands and then engaged in a conversation for more than five minutes, as the trio stood in the middle of the chamber with members busying about all around them. While their discussion could not be heard, the encounter could be seen by reporters watching the floor and it was picked up on a video feed.

Speaking to CNN shortly after the floor conversation, Tlaib would not discuss the details of their private discussion but added: "I am just trying to build bridges."

Zeldin told CNN it was a "candid" conversation in which Cheney and Tlaib were "sharing their thoughts on the back-and-forth from the last few days."

Cheney has been one of the most visible Republicans criticizing Tlaib in the media for her comments last week about the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel.

"I think most fourth graders know what the Holocaust was, and she apparently doesn't," Cheney said Tuesday on Fox News.

And earlier Wednesday, Cheney and Zeldin invoked Tlaib's recent comments at a news conference as they prepared to take a procedural step that would aim to combat the anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

"We've seen a rise in anti-Semitic violence globally over the course of the last several years, and we are now seeing a rise in the very halls of Congress in a kind of vitriolic and vile anti-Semitism," Cheney said at the event.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have been defending Tlaib and pushing back against GOP leaders, including President Donald Trump, arguing that Republicans are taking Tlaib out of context.

A spokesman for Cheney described the floor conversation on Wednesday with Tlaib as a "frank exchange of views," adding that "Congresswoman Cheney's views haven't changed."

Zeldin said he didn't think "anything was resolved" but noted "dialogue is always good, especially when it's candid."

"I'm happy that that conversation was taking place in the middle of the House floor as opposed to a room where that could be spun any other way, because a candid conversation took place -- but there was no bullying," Zeldin said.

Zeldin was alluding to an article by The Intercept last week in which Tlaib described another member of Congress, Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, as a "bully" after they held a private conversation months ago.

The recent firestorm of criticism began after, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, made comments in a podcast interview last week about the Holocaust, her Palestinian ancestors and the creation of Israel after World War II.

"There's kind of a calming feeling I always tell folks when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people's passports," Tlaib said.

She continued, "I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time, and I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right, and it was forced on them. And so when I think about a one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn't we do it in a better way?"

Critics described her comments as anti-Semitic and historically inaccurate. Tlaib appears to make ahistorical claims about Palestinians providing a "safe haven" for Jews fleeing Europe ahead of the establishment of the modern state of Israel, despite deep-seated opposition at the time to Jewish settlement there and the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

For his part, Trump tweeted that her comments were "horrible and highly insensitive" and demonstrated a "tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people."

Cheney issued a statement Sunday saying Tlaib's comments were "sickening" and called on Democratic leaders to "take action" against her.

Tlaib defended her comments on Sunday, and her spokesman said Cheney "should be ashamed of herself for using the tragedy of the Holocaust in a transparent attempt to score political points."

Tlaib also defended her comments during an appearance Monday night on NBC's "Late Night" host Seth Meyers.

"You know, the tragedy of the Holocaust -- I mean, the reason why Israel was created was to create a safe haven for Jews around the world and there is something, in many ways, beautiful about, that my ancestors -- many had died or had to give up their livelihood, their human dignity to provide a safe haven for Jews in our world," she said. "And that is something I wanted to recognize and kind of honor in some sort of way."

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