Newly-elected Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar found herself in the spotlight, not for passing legislation, but for defending herself against accusations of homophobia, bigotry, and anti-Semitism from all sides.
Omar’s victory in November was a milestone for identity politics. But even as the first Somali-American and one of two Muslim women elected to Congress last year, accusations of intolerance have dogged her first days in office.
In a tweet posted Tuesday, Omar shared a video of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) denouncing then-candidate Trump in 2015. Now, with Graham a reliable supporter of Trump in the Senate, Omar suggested “They got to him, he is compromised!”
Omar did not say exactly how Graham was “compromised,” or by who, but her tweet came days after a slew of accusations by others that Graham is secretly gay, or involved in sexual kink or misconduct, and that information is being used by Trump as leverage against him.
The same day Omar posted her tweet, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle suggested Graham had about-turned on his opposition to Trump, because “Donald Trump knows something pretty extreme about Lindsey Graham.” On Saturday, ‘Avengers’ actor Chris Evans slammed Graham for his “shameful 180,” and called the South Carolina Republican “Smithers,” a reference to Mr. Burns’ lickspittle assistant and closeted homosexual in ‘The Simpsons’.
Democratic operative Jon Cooper suggested the following day that Graham is “kowtowing to Trump (and indirectly Putin),” because of “some pretty serious sexual kink.”
Appearing on CNN Thursday, Omar defended her tweet, but did not directly address Graham’s sexuality.
“So, I am pretty sure that there is something happening with him,” she told CNN’s Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto. “He is somehow compromised to no longer stand up for the truth,” Omar continued, adding that “the evidence really is present to us.”
Pressed on what exactly this evidence is, Omar replied that “It’s being presented to us in the way that he is behaving,” and that her tweet “was just an opinion based on what I believe to be visible to me – and I’m pretty sure there are lots of Americans who agree on this.”
Omar was swiftly called out, first by CNN’s S.E. Cupp, who called her comments “ignorant, homophobic and unacceptable.”
“Here we have Ilhan Omar, a sitting Congresswoman, floating around a conspiracy theory with absolutely zero evidence that Lindsey Graham is secretly gay and the GOP is holding him hostage,” wrote Republican strategist Caleb Hull. “Unbelievable.”
Embroiled in one scandal already, Omar was also pressed by Sciutto about a 2012 tweet sent during an eight-day conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
“Israel has hypnotized the world,” she wrote at the time. “May Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
In her CNN appearance, Omar stood by her tweet. “I don’t know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans,” she said. “My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza war, and I am clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”
Republicans and Jewish Americans were offended. New York Rep. Lee Zeldin (R), who is Jewish, tweeted that “instead of the Dems supporting Israel & combating BDS & anti-Semitism on college campuses & elsewhere, they’re now empowering it.”
Omar has spoken in support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel before, and was recently assigned a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she will vote on issues of US foreign policy and foreign aid, including that to Israel. Crucially, her committee may soon vote on a bipartisan bill that would write into law a 2016 agreement between the US and Israel guaranteeing the Jewish state $38 billion in military aid over 10 years.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in Congress and certainly not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I am deeply disappointed in Speaker Pelosi’s choice, a choice that threatens the Committee’s long history of bipartisan support for Israel,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Louisiana) said in a statement on Thursday.
With two firestorms raging, Omar’s Congressional career has gotten off to a bumpy start. However, the Minnesota lawmaker is standing her ground against the criticism. As well as defending her anti-Israel statement, Omar stood by her accusations against Graham.
“The Right thinks being homosexual is ‘compromising,’” she tweeted later on Thursday. “Y’all know my tweet had nothing to do with his sexuality and everything to do with his blind cooperation w/ Trump.”