How Democrats Did, and Did Not, Defend Ilhan Omar

Democratic presidential candidates, led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, spoke out forcefully in defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar this weekend, after the president of the United States risked inciting violence against the Muslim Congresswoman by endorsing the false claim that she downplayed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Those comments from the progressive Democratic Senators contrasted sharply with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s initial failure to even mention that Omar, whose life has recently been threatened by a Trump fan, was the target of the president’s inflammatory tweet, which mixed video of the Congresswoman with harrowing images of the World Trade Center towers falling.

After a wave of criticism for those tepid remarks — which seemed to endorse the view that Omar had somehow erred in failing to show “reverence” in how she referred to the 9/11 attacks — Pelosi called on Sunday for Trump’s tweet to be deleted, and asked for security to be stepped up for Omar.

President Trump had propelled the smear campaign against Omar into overdrive on Friday night. The video he shared took a passing reference Omar made to the attacks — completely out of context and set to unsettling music — and looped it together with news reports from that day. Trump’s all-caps caption for his video, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET,” was echoed in a closing on-screen title, which read: “September 11, 2001. WE REMEMBER.”

That invocation to remember was an accidental reminder that Trump had revealed, during the 2016 campaign, that he does not, in fact, recall the events of that day clearly. By insisting, against all evidence to the contrary, that he remembered watching on television as “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims in New Jersey cheered the collapse of the towers, Trump betrayed that he was either genuinely confused and believed that something he had imagined actually took place, or that he was willing to smear an entire faith community by pretending that their behavior matched his delusion.

The gross distortion of Omar’s actual comments was initiated by a fringe Shiite Muslim cleric in Australia, Mohamad Tawhidi, whose embrace of far-right myths about Sunni Muslim plots to destroy Western civilization has made him a favorite of Australian nativists and that country’s Murdoch-owned tabloid media. Tawhidi tweeted video of the Congresswoman taken from a Daily Caller edit, along with an inflammatory lie: that “Omar mentions 9/11 and does not consider it a terrorist attack.”

That false claim, along with another lie — that Omar sought “to justify the establishment of a terrorist organization… on US soil” — was amplified by Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, before being broadcast into the White House during the Wednesday morning edition of the president’s daily briefing, a.k.a “Fox and Friends.”

After Sanders and Warren spoke up Friday night, their comments were followed throughout the weekend by statements expressing varying levels of support for Omar from almost all of the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination.

After former Congressman Beto O’Rourke was criticized for failing to mention Omar in his first tweeted comment, his campaign shared video of him describing Trump’s tweet in South Carolina on Saturday morning as “an incitement to violence against Congresswoman Omar, against our fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim.”

Perhaps the least supportive comment came from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose statement seemed to accept the Republicans’ false claim that Omar was somehow guilty of “minimizing” the pain of the attack’s victims or families.

Cory Booker, who initially released no statement, denounced Trump’s attack on Omar in an interview with CBS News recorded on Saturday and broadcast Sunday morning.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who responded to Trump directly last week when the president mocked him, was the only likely candidate to offer no comment. Biden’s silence was made even more obvious by the fact that another possible contender who has yet to decide on a run, Stacey Abrams, did release a strong statement of support for Omar.

Pelosi’s first mild rebuke of Trump was far less supportive of the Congresswoman than statements from several of her colleagues, including Rep. James Clyburn, the Democratic Whip.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told CNN on Sunday that he was not troubled by Omar’s reference to the attacks, as Pelosi seemed to be, and lambasted Trump for taking a post 9/11 grant meant to aid small business owners in the area. “He stole $150,000 from small businessperson” Nadler said. “He has no moral authority to be talking about 9/11. At. All.”

By Sunday, the lack of a stronger response from the Democratic leadership in Congress — and no comment at all from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — led Rep. Rashida Tlaib to accuse the party of using its Muslim Congresswomen as props, without giving them adequate support against bad-faith attacks from Republicans.

For her part, Omar said in a tweeted statement that she had no intention of being silenced.

The post How Democrats Did, and Did Not, Defend Ilhan Omar appeared first on The Intercept.

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