Liberal groups rallied behind embattled Rep. Ilhan Omar on Monday, demanding her fellow Democrats, and particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, do more to defend her against accusations of anti-American behavior for her recent ill-received comments about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The groups suggested the ire aimed at the combative lawmaker, including by President Trump, springs from racism and fear rather than outrage at her controversial moves.
“It’s because of her strident leadership of progressive values, as well as her identity as the first black Muslim woman in Congress, that she is a target of constant racist and bigoted attacks from Donald Trump, right-wing media and extremists, Republican leaders, and even, at times, Democratic colleagues,” the organizations wrote.
Ms. Omar’s latest transgression came last month when, speaking to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, she summed up the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as “some people did something.”
Mrs. Pelosi last week initially took a pass on the matter, saying she wanted to speak to Ms. Omar first.
But by this weekend she was waving aside the congresswoman’s behavior and accusing Republicans of fanning the flames against Ms. Omar — beginning with Mr. Trump, who released a video juxtaposing Ms. Omar’s words with images from Sept. 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 were killed in the attacks.
On Monday, Mrs. Pelosi urged Mr. Trump to do better.
“I don’t think any president of the United States should use the tragedy of 9/11 as a political tool. I think that is wrong. I think it is beneath the dignity of the office,” she said while speaking at an event in London.
She has told Mr. Trump to take down his tweet containing the video, saying the president has put the congresswoman’s life in danger.
Ms. Omar herself said she has seen a surge of death threats in the wake of the video.
Mr. Trump said Mrs. Pelosi, in defending Ms. Omar, was sacrificing herself to her party’s most radical elements.
“Before Nancy, who has lost all control of Congress and is getting nothing done, decides to defend her leader, Rep. Omar, she should look at the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful U.S. HATE statements Omar has made. She is out of control, except for her control of Nancy!” the president tweeted Monday morning.
Ms. Omar has been an ongoing distraction for Democrats, sparking two separate floor debates on legislation rebuking her for comments antagonistic to Israel, which many viewed as anti-Semitic.
Liberal activists say they’re fed up with the apologies and explanations and want to see their party go to bat for Ms. Omar against Republicans and Mr. Trump.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who, with Ms. Omar, is one of the first two female Muslim lawmakers elected to Congress, said Democrats are using minority lawmakers.
“They put us in photos when they want to show our party is diverse. However, when we ask to be at the table, or speak up about issues that impact who we are, what we fight for & why we ran in the first place, we are ignored. To truly honor our diversity is to never silence us,” she tweeted last week.
Ms. Omar retweeted the message.
Justice Democrats, a progressive activist group that helped New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory, said party leaders need to change.
“As the Republican Party plays up dangerous white nationalist themes ahead of the 2020 elections, the response from Democratic Party leaders to this recent barrage of attacks against Ilhan Omar has been slow, tepid and even dismissive,” the groups leaders wrote in a statement Friday.
Some prominent Democrats have leapt to Ms. Omar’s defense, including some 2020 presidential candidates, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler. They argued that Mr. Trump is overblowing the situation and placing Ms. Omar’s life in danger.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a presidential hopeful, called the president’s tweet against Ms. Omar “disgusting.”
“It’s a false choice to suggest we can’t fight terrorism and reject Islamophobic hate at once — a president should do both,” she tweeted.
Ms. Omar’s backers say she wasn’t trying to insult the memory of the 2001 attack, but instead to bring attention to the plight of Muslims who she said have seen their rights eroded in the years since.
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