Prominent Democrats defended Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN) after Donald Trump tweeted a viral video featuring a recent speech given by Omar intercut with footage of 9/11.
Members of Omar’s 2018 Congressional class, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley (MA) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), responded to the tweet by accusing the president both of spreading Islamophobia and of endangering Omar’s safety.
Members of Congress have a duty to respond to the President’s explicit attack today.@IlhanMN’s life is in danger. For our colleagues to be silent is to be complicit in the outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress.
We must speak out.
“First they came…” pic.twitter.com/ygOX1vhE9j
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 12, 2019
Democratic presidential candidates including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, and Jay Inslee, all defended Omar.
The President is inciting violence against a sitting Congresswoman—and an entire group of Americans based on their religion. It’s disgusting. It’s shameful. And any elected leader who refuses to condemn it shares responsibility for it.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 13, 2019
Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 13, 2019
After 9/11 we all said we were changed. That we were stronger and more united. That’s what “never forget” was about. Now, a president uses that dark day to incite his base against a member of Congress, as if for sport. As if we learned nothing that day about the workings of hate.
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) April 13, 2019
President Trump’s inflammatory and dangerous rhetoric towards Ilhan Omar is jeopardizing her safety. He is deliberately putting her and all Muslim Americans in harm’s way.
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) April 13, 2019
While some Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) were more measured in their criticism, and others like New York’s Rep. Max Rose used Trump’s tweet to reach across the aisle, there was no notable criticism of Omar’s comments.
This marks a stark departure from February, when Democratic leaders condemned tweets Omar sent criticizing the influence of pro-Israel lobbyists. In a joint statement signed by Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD), Majority Whip James Clyburn (SC), and other top Democrats, party leaders rebuked “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes,” calling her tweets “deeply offensive.”
The statement demanded Omar apologize. She did, after which the House passed a resolution that did not mention her by name, but that broadly denounced “the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the United States and around the world.”
Now Democrats are striking a different tone. Their defense of Omar is the latest step in an effort to defend the freshman Democrat from what is being increasingly described by liberals as an Islamophobic smear campaign. Omar is one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, a fact some, such as Vox’s Nisha Chittal and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes have argued is central to the criticism.
Democrats also see this as an opportunity to attack Trump and to differentiate themselves and their party from the politics the president favors.
Omar’s words were taken out of context
The clip of Omar comes from a speech the Congresswoman gave in March to members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights organization.
In the speech, which was uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, Omar stressed the importance of organizations like CAIR, and praised them for helping to protect Muslims from civil rights violations.
“Far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen, and frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” Omar said. “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp explained, Omar’s words “some people did something” were quickly seized upon by members of the right “to paint [Omar] as an anti-American radical indifferent to those killed during the 9/11 attacks.”
The New York Post took the quote and placed it on its front page with an image of 9/11 on Thursday; conservative media personality Sean Hannity tweeted it to his followers. The cover, and online criticism of Omar about her supposed statement was followed by the appearance of the video the president tweeted.
Beauchamp called right’s outrage “part and parcel” of an “overall anti-Muslim campaign,” and added:
These attacks are straight-up attempts to turn her into the boogeyman of the GOP base’s Islamophobic nightmares, meant to gin up politically useful fear and anger by targeting one of the first-ever Muslim congresswomen. That this seems to have contributed to at least one death threat against her is demonstrably unimportant: The latest round of attacks came after the news of the threat maker’s arrest.
Political threats are becoming real threats for Omar
The president’s tweet marks the second time in recent weeks he has directly attacked Omar. Last Saturday he made disparaging remarks about the Congresswoman at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual convention, just hours after law enforcement officials charged one of his supporters for threatening to kill her.
That man, 55-year-old Patrick Carlineo Jr., allegedly called Omar’s office asked staffers, “Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her, she’s a fucking terrorist,” before reportedly telling them, “I’ll put a bullet in her fucking skull.”
Law enforcement officials said Carlineo told them he “loves the president and that he hates radical Muslims in our government” after being apprehended.
While Carlineo was arrest after her speech, Omar addressed his stated beliefs in her CAIR address, in which she blamed Trump for escalating anti-Muslim sentiment.
“We have a leader … in the White House who publicly says Islam hates us, who fuels hate against Muslims, who thinks it is okay to speak about a faith and a whole community in a way that is dehumanizing, vilifying, and doesn’t understand … the consequences that his words might have,” Omar said. “Some people, like me, know that he understands the consequences.”