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Q&A: Rep. Ilhan Omar is a favorite Trump target. What’s going on?

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), center, whom President Trump has increasingly attacked lately, walks with reporters in Washington on Thursday.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Rep. Ilhan Omar has been in Congress less than seven months, but the Minnesota Democrat has become a major target of President Trump’s ire.

What’s going on?

Trump’s attacks on Omar escalated sharply in the last week. Why?

Omar has been a vocal critic of Trump since she got to Congress, calling herself “the president’s nightmare.” But tensions spiked after Trump tweeted Sunday that four minority Democratic congresswomen — Omar and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — should “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came.”

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The four women held a news conference Monday to respond. Omar called the tweet “a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States of House of Representatives.”

A day later, a divided House voted, largely on party lines, to “strongly condemn” Trump’s tweet as racist.

Then, at a rally Wednesday night in North Carolina, Trump singled out Omar for criticism. After urging the crowd to tell the lawmakers to “leave” the country if they don’t love it, he claimed, without evidence, that Omar supported Al Qaeda. The crowd interrupted him, chanting, “Send her back!”

Why is Trump singling out Omar?

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Although all four women are U.S. citizens, Omar is the only one born abroad. She was born in Somalia but moved as a child with her parents to the United States to flee the country’s civil war and became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Omar’s foreign birth has prompted xenophobic comments from some Trump supporters. And, as one of two Muslim women in Congress (along with Tlaib), she’s a target for people who are Islamophobic.

What about her comments about Israel?

That’s a factor too. She has made several anti-Semitic statements and later apologized.

In January, a 2012 tweet recirculated in which Omar said, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

Omar issued an apology on Twitter.

“It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy is disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive,” she wrote.

In February, she asserted that Israel’s supporters in Congress were only motivated by money.

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Tweeting about the pro-Israel advocacy organization AIPAC, Omar wrote, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!” That tweet echoed the anti-Semitic trope that Jewish influence in politics comes almost exclusively through financial donations.

Omar’s comments drew harsh rebukes from Democrats and Republicans alike, and she later wrote on Twitter that she “unequivocally” apologized.

A few weeks later, her criticism of Israel again crossed a line when she wrote that Israel’s American political backers are advocating “allegiance to a foreign country.”

This time, Omar refused to issue an apology despite criticism from top Democrats and Republicans. Days later, in an apparent reference to her comments, the House passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

Didn’t she also say something controversial about Al Qaeda?

In March, addressing the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, Omar referred to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a moment when “some people did something,” which some viewed as minimizing the Al Qaeda attacks.

“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,” she said. (CAIR was actually founded in 1994, not after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.)

Critics complained that she was downplaying the horrors of the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, and Al Qaeda’s role in hijacking and crashing the four planes in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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In April, Trump retweeted an edited video of Omar’s speech that only included the phrase “some people did something,” without context about Omar’s comments on the founding of CAIR. After a clip of Omar saying, “Some people did something,” the video cut to footage of the attacks.

Trump cited Omar’s comment again at Wednesday’s rally, twisting it into the false assertion that she supported the terrorist group.

How have Omar’s colleagues responded to Trump’s attacks?

Reaction has been split along party lines.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) denounced the “Send her back!” chant as racist and vile and accused the president of trying to divide the country for his own political gain.

Many Republicans, in contrast, declined to comment or said they weren’t informed enough on what Omar had said, or Trump’s response at the rally.

Omar went on Twitter to denounce the “Send her back!” chant. “I am where I belong, at the people’s house and you’re just gonna have to deal!” she wrote.

The president attempted to distance himself from the North Carolina chants — though he made no attempt to stop them and appeared to show approval — telling reporters Thursday, “I was not happy with it. I disagree with it.”


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